It's that time of year when everyone is full of advice to those graduating, whether from high school or college, about the best way to plan their next steps. I never really saw myself as wanting to give advice to graduates, I didn't even submit a speech when I graduated from graduate school. However, in the past few years I have learnt a few things about feeling uncertain, scared and not knowing what next steps to take.
If you have just graduated from school or college, or are otherwise at a loose end in life, evaluating your next moves and feeling a bit overwhelmed, this advice is for you.
1. It's Not The End of School, But The Beginning
If you think graduation means you don't need to learn anymore, think again. You may not choose to go to graduate school, or need to pass professional exams, but all of you will need to keep learning. The world is changing rapidly, and now more than ever, keeping current with new skills and technology, as well as being aware of new developments in your field, will make the difference between being relevant in your job or not (or even between having a job or not).
If you choose to be self-employed or start your own business, the list of new things that you have to learn will increase exponentially. As a writer, I thought I would have to polish my writing and editing skills, but I didn't anticipate having to learn about business, marketing, design and master new technology. There will be a lot to learn, but the good news is that you can find the methods and materials that help you learn best. If you want to get a new perspective on learning, I have written an entire book about it.
2. Get Your Nose In A Book (or Dozen)
Connecting back to the first point, this is an excellent time to get back to reading, but for pleasure. Sure pick up those mysteries and thrillers, but while you're at the bookstore or library, wander over to the non-fiction aisles and browse for something that catches your eye. Read about something that piques your curiosity, whether it is history or astronomy, political science or viral marketing. There are many well-written books on a wide variety of subjects, that will give you a new perspective, teach you something interesting, or help you to expand the list of areas you might want to explore. At the very least, it will give you something to talk about at your next interview.
In the years since I finished graduate school, I have gained an interest in a wide range of subjects, and opened up many more opportunities than I previously had, mainly because I read 70-100 books each year.
3. Make Something
You may not know what you want to do with your life, and it can all seem very daunting. You are probably bombarded with advice, maybe you have a temporary job that isn't great, and you are wondering how to connect what you learned with the jobs you can get. These are all questions you need to (and will) figure the answers to, but for now - just put your energy to making something. Anything. Something concrete.
Write a play, a book, a song. Code an app. Make a collage. Paint, design, sew. Take pictures or create a video. Create some flyers for your friend's band. Whatever you know how to do. Turn your ideas into something real.
It will be something you can add to your portfolio, if that's what you want. But most importantly, it will give you something to direct that nervous energy towards, something to help you build your self-esteem, something to do while you figure out what you're really going to do. Maybe it will be something that was fun to do for a while, and then you move on. Maybe you discover that this is what you are meant to do. Maybe you learn a new skill and can find a way to leverage that in your new job. The point is - you're better off doing something than thinking (read worrying) or going on social media (to see what everyone else is doing better).
4. Find Someone To Help
Not all of us can take off and join Doctors without Borders or work to save the tiger, but we forget that there is a big space between saving the world, and doing nothing. If you adopt the mindset of being useful, you can look around and find a dozen ways to make someone's day.
An ancient proverb says that when you light a lamp for someone else, it lights your own way. I have found that getting through tough times have been made easier when I stopped focusing on how much I was suffering, and looked around at those around me. If you really care to look, chances are someone is lonely, unhappy, scared, or needs encouragement. Give someone the gift of really caring, buy them a cup of coffee, really listen to them, send someone an encouraging message, remember to wish someone you haven't seen in a long time on their birthday. Offer to help your struggling colleague (even if you hate the job and don't think you are treated fairly). Smile at your grumpy customers even if they are lousy tippers. Put a lot of positivity and helpfulness out into the universe, and it will come back to you in an unexpected way. This more than anything else is the biggest lesson I have learned recently.
5. Be Like The Oak Tree (and The Bamboo)
The most important piece of advice I can give - don't get swayed too easily by comparing yourself with others. Maybe you haven't quite found your path. Maybe things are harder for you, or taking longer than for others. It's easy to be unduly influenced by both praise and criticism. Instead, forge a strong character, and grow deep roots like the mighty oak.
And if indeed it seems that while you are figuring things out, or working on yourself while your peers effortlessly find their rightful places, remember the bamboo - it seems to have completely stopped growing, to be stunted in its growth while other plants keep growing steadily. But under the surface, its consolidating and strengthening - and then suddenly it experiences a huge growth spurt.
It's human nature to want to fit in, to be liked by others, to avoid pain. But those who succeed in the long run are emotionally strong and can weather heavy winds and the occasional storm.
I believe that you can't go wrong with these 5 tips. All the best and congratulations!