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Guidance for Transitioning from College Life to Work Life

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You did it!  You worked hard for years to get a degree and graduated.  Additionally, you landed a fantastic entry-level job that will develop into a career.  Now what?  Intense focus on achieving goals necessary to start adult life can leave you feeling lost during the transition between college and career.  High achievers can suddenly fall into a funk, questioning past decisions such as their selected degree program or job choice after college.  Relax, these thoughts are normal.  Do not panic and sign up for Green Peace because you are suddenly afraid your life spent working for a company will not amount to anything significant.  To help with your transition to work, here are a few guiding themes to ponder.

Find your Rhythm

Students live by the semester or trimester schedule, and after four or five years in higher education it may come as a shock that the rest of the world does not follow the typical academic schedule.  Now you have to work during the summer, you may not get a winter break, and you will not get all the holidays off either (Columbus Day; good luck finding an employer providing that day off from work).  Since the non-academic world does not live by this familiar schedule you will have to get used to a new annual cycle.  Think of this adjustment period as jet lag or a daylight savings time change.  In a year you will forget about semesters and summer break. You no longer have to spend your weekends studying, writing papers, or working a part-time job so you will likely have more time to relax.  Developing a routine becomes helpful if you lost your sense of balance after college.  It took you four or more years to hone a school routine and now you need a new one.   Structure was your friend in school, so it’s no different in the working world.  Plan a daily routine that gets you to work early and to bed at a regular time.  Regular sleep will offer much-needed energy to focus on work for 8 plus hours a day.  At home, plan some relaxing time to unwind each day but do not fall into the trap of becoming a vegetable in front of the television.  Read, think, daydream, exercise, try new things, cook, converse, or whatever you wish.  Give yourself six months to a year and your natural rhythm will come into focus. 

Find Your Passion and a Dream

Chasing major life goals for the better part of your adult life can cloud your ability to find your passion and dreams. Many people initially think their career will be their passion, but for many this is not true.  When you discover your passion is not what you do at work, suddenly you need something deeper to direct your actions and your guide your life.  You need a passion and a dream.  Your passion is not easy to find, you cannot just will one out of thin air.  You must find them.  Taking time to live, to experience the world and its people will help you craft a vision for your life that has passion and achieves dreams.  Ask yourself this helpful question: “If I had enough money to live my life comfortably, what would I do?”  If your answer primarily consists of gallivanting around on a beach in Mexico for the rest of your days drinking margaritas and shooting tequila then you have not found your passion.  However, you may have found a way to get inspired.  Work is noble even if it does not produce an income and is necessary for sustaining a productive life, so your dreams need to contain some form of work.  Find the work that will help you feel valued even if it is not your income producing work.  To get inspired and begin your search for your life's work, start reading biographies of people you admire.  TED talks are also a good platform for inspiration.  Do not stop trying to discover your passion and craft a dream, because without some focus here you may drift away from your life’s full potential.  One day, when you truly find yourself excited and bursting with enthusiasm about a particular cause or topic you will have found your passion.

Find Spirituality and Religion

It is easy to live during college without spirituality or religion because there are many detractors.  To those of you who clung to your spirituality and did not lose it in college to parties, studying and various endeavors chasing the opposite sex, you are a step ahead of everyone else.  If you either lost it or never had it, then you should search for spirituality and practice some form of religion.  Religion provides strength when you are weak, and surrounds you with people who will support you through rough patches in life.  You may think you do not need religion, but eventually  you will experience something that will alter your life's course.  Having a basis of faith before a life altering event occurs will help you cope with the change.  Your personal and professional life will benefit from the stability religion offers.  Having a support system before you need it is best, like insurance, otherwise life will be harder.  Get religion, I promise it is worth the risk, commitment and energy.  Religion also helps to develop that routine and rhythm mentioned earlier and can also aid in discovering your passion.

Find your Friends

After college many people separate from their home geographic local and friends from college diverge.  Perhaps you are lucky enough to regularly see a core group of friends from college because they work for the same employer as you or are in the same city, but this is a luxury.  Learning how to make new friends is a lesson you learned in kindergarten, but it will aid you throughout life.  Find people who genuinely care about others then strike up a friendship, go for drinks or lunch or coffee, but take that first step.  Friends are the family you get to select, so choose wisely and invest your time with them.  You will reap rewards from having an active social life.   Sharing life with others with is a blessing, and you will find that chasing your passion or dream is a lot easier with a core group of friends.  So develop some hobbies to enjoy with others; if you don’t have any, try anything that sounds interesting and can involve at least one other person.  This will help you find people who share your interests outside of work.

You can fall into the trap of letting old friends go after college but do not kick them to the curb unintentionally.  See some of your college friends once a year, it is rejuvenating and you will always enjoy the shared experience and nostalgia.  Maintaining your friendships is easier with social networking websites, but nothing replaces face to face time in a restaurant, pub, or at your Alma Mater's homecoming celebration.  All the weekend time you spent studying is now filled with something, and friends are an excellent way to cover the gap.

Find Balance

Responsibility hits hard after college and juggling all the variables can leave you feeling disheveled and confused.  Carving out time for yourself to exercise, to dream, to live and laugh is vital to life after college.  College provided many recreational opportunities with others who were in the same stage of life as you that it became a naturally derived social environment. After college it is easy to start pouring yourself into work which is rewarding in the short-term, but to thrive in the long-term you need balance.  Set aside some time just for you. Early in your career it is easy to fall victim to becoming a workaholic, which once developed is not a trait that is easy to reverse.  Find activities to focus your intellect and energy on outside of the workplace, and you will find that you will develop balance naturally out of your passion. 

In addition to prioritizing your time between work and home, balance also includes the topic of personal finances after college.  If you never had opportunity to manage your personal finances or have not made a financial plan and live on a budget you should start now.  Falling victim to the largest paycheck ever received can cause people to do dumb things that cause regret later.  Take a step to learn money management principles after graduation before you make major mistakes that will trail you for decades. This is an opportunity to start on the right foot if your parents did not do a great job teaching you these skills or if you came from a family that made poor financial choices and you do not want to continue the cycle of having constant money worries.  Do not make major purchases right after college such as a new car or a home by financing them with loads of debt.  Learn about personal finances.  Develop a budget to set you free of financial worry.  Money touches everything in life, and if you do not control it, you likely won’t be in control of your life.  Get a copy of The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey or take his Financial Peace University class shortly after you graduate from college. 

In Summary

The time right after college is frightening and exciting, but it is an enjoyable time.  Questioning your life purpose or past decisions comes with this stage of life and is normal, but do not fall captive to this line of questioning as it only hinders the progress you want.  No one has all the answers, but you can intentionally strive for success in all areas of your life right out of the gate if you accept that you will feel uncomfortable at times.  You will mess up and learn from your mistakes, and it is fine to feel out-of-place for a while.  There are no grades like there were in college, but there are annual performance reviews and raises which may feel better or worse than some of those grades you earned. Experience is your new teacher, so look back on your performance and actions often to keep learning.  Develop your rhythm, find your passion, chase your dream, find your religion, forge strong friendships and find balance.  Achievement far greater than a college degree will come, but only if you think ahead and pursue your passion with intention. 



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