Graduating from College with the End Goal in Mind

Graduating from College with the End Goal in Mind

The message often received in high school is that you have to work hard to get a job. The problem is, I’ve seen plenty of people get jobs, but then what? Is that it? Of course not. I know people in the working world who can’t manage multiple tasks. I know teachers who struggle to communicate with their students. I know people who are in leadership positions and fail to lead. All these people have high school diplomas and college degrees. So what’s the problem?

Life after graduation is a process, not an end goal

For those of you with graduation on the mind, you’re probably planning for that next step. From job interviews to graduate school applications to “just winging it,” all students strive to keep the freedom they’ve experienced in college-going, to make sure good times never end. The world’s ours once we’re done here.

Right?

Sadly, that’s not the case for most of us, especially in this economy. We might think we’re definitely not moving back home after graduation, but being part of the “Boomerang Generation,” it’s a reality many of us will face as we deal with periods of unemployment or entry-level jobs that don’t pay enough. Many getting those jobs will think of them as temporary, telling ourselves we have bigger dreams, only to find ourselves staying there year after year in a listless rut.

Graduate school is a nice way to avoid the real world for a few more years, but unless one’s work involves cutting-edge research with tons of funding, graduate students often find employers reluctant to hire them and universities sending them through a rat race for hopelessly out-of-reach faculty jobs.

It’s not that we’re graduating to find nothing: It’s that many of us are graduating to realities our studies haven’t quite prepared us for. The world is seemingly ours for the taking, but the world also seems a little temperamental right now.

Coined the “quarter-life crisis,” this condition of anxiety in 20-somethings describes a contradictory reality where those who’ve experienced success throughout their school lives graduate only to find a poisonous banality taking root. With the task of maintaining a three-point-something grade point average throughout college as a fairly common achievement, it’s easy to fall into an unreliable sense of security that good grades will be rewarded with good careers.

Expectations students build up during school (100K starting salary, finding your soulmate, etc.) are being crushed now more than ever because of increased competition and the rebuilding the economy. Many students maintain their expectations with a sense of hope in a merit-based society and, thus, upon graduating and spending a few years in jobs they don’t consider careers, feel a deep sense of disappointment when those expectations aren’t met.

This sense of disappointment causes a painful confusion and stagnant lifestyle that makes many 20-somethings sigh dozens of times a day. Young people are supposed to take life by storm, but it’s difficult because of the option overload that threatens one’s sense of identity and desires.

This overload contributes to the stressful illusion that we can do anything — study for the Graduate Record Examination, write a book, apply to the Peace Corps — and fills us with shame when we don’t do it all.

More than ever in today’s state of affairs, students should realize that their education isn’t the primary ticket to their dreams. To avoid this crushing anxiety of the quarter-life crisis, students should see the resources they possess — youth, freedom, hopeful creativity, independence — not as innate advantages in the job market but rather as tools that need to be sharpened, that will evolve once they’re no longer in their 20s.

We need to battle the expectations that often suffocate self-esteem, which will involve making solid and detailed plans to reach the dream goal and asking for help when needed. Goal-setting and doing one thing at a time is key to overcoming the pressures of having all this freedom and independence upon graduating and avoiding being the person who lives in his parent’s basement.

At the root of all this planning, students should think about how to define for themselves the ideas of happiness and fulfillment to avoid a vicious cycle of self-pity.

I like to lift up my drink while I’m having fun and think how life is really sweet at 20-something. Then I like to think how I love the work I’m doing and how I can’t wait to do more of it.

Final Word

Many high school students see the diploma and the job as the final destination. The truth is the diploma and job are just the beginning of a lifetime of learning. Most people end up getting that first job, but many don’t do the job well or don’t enjoy the work. They feel confused about which city to live in, how to make friends in that city, and whether living in that city really makes financial sense. Climbing up the academic ladder is a series of planned out steps. You take the SAT and climb up a rung. You get into college and climb up another. You graduate from high school. Your professors give you assignments and exams. With each one you complete, you make your way to the top of that ladder until graduation day. Now you’re at the top of the tree when all of a sudden, the ladder gets removed from under you, and you have to figure out a way to get down. There are no more rungs laid out for you. There’s no next graduation or homework assignment. There’s no moving on to the next grade. Professors and advisors aren’t telling you what to do anymore.

That’s where those skills from school—critical thinking, organization, communication, grit, self-reflection—come in. They help people to keep learning and to figure out what the next best steps for them are. People have to get truthful with themselves and think about what actually gets them excited and motivated. They have to create the path for themselves for the first time instead of letting others create it for them. They do this process again and again for years and decades. To say the end goal is the first job is foolish because it’s actually when the real learning begins.

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