This time last year, I was at the height of job searching. I was focused on finishing my degree and getting a job, confident that I would then be headed for smooth sailing. The problem with my intense focus on the job/degree goal is that I didn’t understand that challenges that would await me on the other side. I would say that my first year has been pretty good so far, but there is no denying that it’s been a major shift in my life. Here are some things that I’ve learned so far in my transition/quarter-life crisis.
- There are some things that you just don’t know until you know. Hindsight is 20/20, so to speak. You could ask a thousand questions during the job interview process, but there are a lot of things that you will never realize are important until you’re in the thick of it. It’s really tough to understand how you feel about something until you’ve experienced it. The nature of a job on paper and in words is quite different from the day to day experience. Because of this, having an open and positive attitude is an absolute must. “Open and positive”, by the way, does not mean, “just accept everything without question”.
- You might really miss being a student. That’s right. I said it. Not being a student has made me truly understand how awesome being a student was. I’m not sure if this is because of the constant sense of purpose and motivation that I derived from working toward my degree, the environment of inquiry and dialogue that I was part of, the sense of connection I felt to my institution because I was enrolled there, or just knowing where the heck buildings on campus were. All of the above. I know for sure that I miss it.
- Building a social network is a lot easier when you’re in school. You thought making friends in college was tough? Being a grown up is a lot tougher. In graduate school, I spent so much of my time with my peers. We had classes together, ate meals together in the dining hall, worked on projects together in the library or at each others’ homes, we were in a student organization together, etc. There was forced social interaction all the time. Turns out, this is helpful for actually getting to know people and spending time with them voluntarily. Don’t get me wrong; I get along well with many of my colleagues now and consider them friends. But living without that circle of friends that I was used to is one of the biggest differences. When your life doesn’t force you to spend time with others, you spend a heck of a lot more time alone. You need to make more of an effort to get to know people and build a network of friends.
- Life is hardly ever what you expected it to be like. This lesson is partly a result of my professional transition, but mostly a result of my personal experiences and my growing understanding of this journey I’m on at this particular time in my life. Most of the time, our expectations of the future turn out to be pretty inaccurate. The real question is whether or not we can free ourselves from those previous definitions and embrace the possibilities that await us every day. When I was younger, I can assure you that I did not think that as I near 25, I would be living in an apartment on a college campus, single, and with no path in the near future to getting married or having children. In many ways, that was how I contemplated my successful adult life for a long time. Although I have been shifting away from the “house/husband/children before 30” preoccupation for a while now, I’m still getting the hang of how I define my non-career related success in my adult life.
What important lessons have others learned from transitioning into their first professional position?