Rites of passage and the requisite advice
March 7, 2009 10:55 PM   Subscribe

Any advice for a fresh graduate jumping from a world of possibility to a world of potential naysayers? Help me tone down the naïveté, or whatever else needs to be done.

I'm about to graduate and head off into the real world and from the looks of it college was merely an incubator of impossible ideals and untested ambitions to "change the world". I have so many ideas but was advised to work quietly instead of splashing around without much result. Maybe I just watch too much TED or read too many can-do books on social change. In any case, I need to balance out this idealism so I won't get burned out quickly and/or be tempted to give up at every setback.

Books for fresh graduates would be great, real-life experiences would be great, I just need to be more informed about super big dreams and getting there. Thanks a lot.
posted by drea to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Ideals should never be compromised. You always want a vision that you hold true to. It is an idea after all and that's what will inspire you and others to follow you.

Whoever told you to "work quietly" instead of "splashing around" probably meant you needed to focus on something.

Start some kind of organization or get linked up with one that matches your ideas immediately. Get a businesscard or slip of paper with information that you can hand to someone at the close of a conversation. You'll be wanting to promote these efforts to new people you meet through friends, family, civic, volunteer, business and government groups.

I find you can "balance", or rather temper what is possible in your mind with what is concrete when you actually start making calls and setting up timelines. Sometimes what you think is impossible to achieve happens very quickly thanks to a series of fortunate events.
posted by abdulf at 11:18 PM on March 7, 2009

The best way I've found to have to deal with this is to set realistic short term and long term goals. I have goals for things I want to accomplish this year, within three years, within six or seven years, etc.

Document how you plan to accomplish your goals, how you plan to measure success, and then just start working on them.
posted by Pants! at 11:37 PM on March 7, 2009

Graduation is disorienting, because the goals and criteria for success are suddenly so much less clear. Remind yourself that it's ok, this is a transition that everybody goes through when they get out. It will take a while to get used to being out of the school framework.

In thinking about your first jobs, be realistic -- in the following sense:
Remember that you will probably have to pay dues. Your first few jobs will be comparatively boring, unchallenging, etc. They'll be entry level, they won't take advantage of many of your wonderful abilities. Be patient; it doesn't mean you will never make a difference, and it doesn't mean that your college degree is worthless. The point of this is to build your skills and credentials and network of personal connections, so that in five years (or whatever time frame) you can get the really good job. This is not wasted time! Remember this when your friends can say "oh I'm in med school" or whatever and it sounds so much more like they're "doing something". You are building skills, it just doesn't have a glamorous sounding name. The people that I know whose post-college period was full of weird little jobs (that sounded unimpressive at the time) are the people who now have the really cool jobs -- you hear about their work and you go "how did she get THAT job?" The answer is, by building a mix of skills and connections outside of a formal program.

It's also hard to move to a new city, and hard to make new friends once you're out of school. Be kind to yourself, recognize it's hard for everyone, but we get through it and build post-college lives gradually.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:18 AM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

Change happens slowly. Really, really slowly. Often, social or "mental" changes happen on generational boundaries, especially if they're not towards a more convenient lifestyle or way of thinking (e.g. Internet = easy, quick change; racism = hard, slow change). So, it's not a matter of toning down your ideals as much as learning to be patient. Pacing yourself allows you to do two things: 1) keep your momentum and energy levels so that you stay sufficiently motivated, and 2) gives you time to avoid the impending Brain Rot that accompanies leaving academia. It's important to keep watching the TED talks, reading books in your free time, and learning new things.

Everyone's naive at some point, and no one is born knowing things. Just enjoy the experiences you face, keep your hopes high and your optimism primed, and you should be fine. Sounds cliché, but setbacks are what comprise experience -- being initially naive is not necessarily a bad thing for this reason.
posted by spiderskull at 1:17 AM on March 8, 2009

It always helps me to think that the views that are now mainstream used to be unpopular at one point in history. Take the environmental movement. In the 1980s they were largely perceived as a bunch of idiots that spend their days hugging trees. Today, everyone is talking about environment protection (and it might take some further decades until everyone does something for environmental protection). This is true for so many other things. Always keep yourself reminding that nothing in the world is natural but everything is contingent.

These two quotes also help me during my lows:

"I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will." - Antonio Gramsci

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man" - George Bernard Shaw
posted by jfricke at 4:36 AM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whether you're a scientist or not, Put Your Science To Work has a lot of great advice.
posted by Coventry at 5:51 AM on March 8, 2009

(Er, I meant to say, a lot of great career advice for a new graduate.)
posted by Coventry at 5:52 AM on March 8, 2009

What Lobstermitten said - my observations with every graduate intake are these:

The best graduates:
- Appreciate that they are new and that whilst they are all bright and excelled at their studies they have got a lot to learn
- Do what you ask them to do and do it how you ask them to do it - they ask questions to confirm their understanding but then go off and do the work
- They do what needs to be done to help the team achieve the goal irrespective of how boring that task may be
- Understand that it is ok to say you don't understand what you are asked to do/that you need help/got stuck
- Appreciate that they work they do initially is not what they will spend the rest of their working life doing, but that roles, responsiblities and scopes change all the time - that entry level is a necessary step to wherever you want to go
- That they are working with human beings, who are at times tired, stressed, grumpy (both colleagues and customers/clients) and that occasionally you just take a deep breath, remind yourself what you're trying to achieve and let it go - even if you are right

The worst ones:
- Lack the humility to appreciate that just because they were good in their degree course that does not mean they have the faintest idea how to do the work they are now expected to do
- Consider the tasks set them to be beneath them i.e. boring, pointless etc and argue about the work and do it badly thus causing problems for the people who have to pick up their work
- Waste hours 'working' but really not understanding what they are doing until somebody asks them for the work they were meant to do
- Don't appreciate that working days are longer than college days, that they will be tired, that they will do overtime etc. and that the social life may well suffer
- That customers/clients pay your salary and that means that you do not argue with them - not at entry level anyway...
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:18 AM on March 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

And no, the rules change of course but you don't give up your ideals and you can make a difference - at some point you may have to decide if you want to work to live or make a difference - it may be that you pursue your ideals outside what you do to earn a living :)
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:22 AM on March 8, 2009

Especially if you end up having to take a bummer of a job to pay the bills, consider volunteering somewhere that will put your degree skills/idealism/energy to good use. It's a way to build up contacts in the world you really want to work in while getting the practical experience necessary to make the changes you want to see in the world.

And remember to look at entry-level positions as really great opportunities to get to know an organization from the ground up. Just because you're out of school doesn't mean you shouldn't remain eager to learn. (Doesn't sound like you're the complacent type at all but it never hurts to remind yourself.)
posted by Neofelis at 8:30 AM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

The single best thing you can do as a new graduate entering the job market, and something I wish I had done in retrospect, is to practice mindfulness and listen to your bosses when they offer constructive advice. If they say to talk less, less talking is what is required. This does not mean ask fewer questions, but instead only make statements in response to a question.
posted by parmanparman at 8:31 AM on March 8, 2009

Neofelis said: "consider volunteering somewhere that will put your degree skills/idealism/energy to good use"

This is the best advice in the thread. Practical experience in your field is a HUGE plus when employers are looking at your resume. If you haven't done an internship or volunteer work, get started as quickly as possible. I think my internships are definitely what got me my first job (and helped with the second and third) and made writing my applications so much easier. And that's my advice: look at the selection criteria for jobs that you want and see where there are holes in your experience. If possible, take short-term steps to start building those skills/experience.
posted by Lucie at 4:01 PM on March 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers, I do hope there's more up ahead.
posted by drea at 6:43 PM on March 9, 2009

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