Dear College Students: The 3 Most Important Lessons I Learned After Graduation

By: Katie Lopes

Congratulations on making it to the day that you have been working toward for the past four years (or more)! This is an emotional time full of big questions about what you should expect as a new graduate – now, finally out in the “real world.” Whether you are already committed to a certain career path, or you are graduating without a clue about how you will transition into the workforce—don’t fret, you are not alone! The journey after college certainly has many unknowns, but that’s also what makes it so exciting and full of possibility.

Just a couple of years ago, I graduated from college with a great education and a diploma, but unsure about how I would translate my skills and experiences into a career path that was right for me. Now, as I reflect on my journey, I’d like to share a few valuable tips that I hope you will also find helpful as you enter this next chapter of your life.

Prepare to Make Mistakes… Lots of Them

First off, you are going to make mistakes, and that’s ok. Whether it’s forgetting about an important meeting, poorly negotiating your starting salary, or accepting a position that turns out to be a bad fit, the lessons learned from these mistakes will become your most valuable tools during your job search – and your life, in general. It is important to take time to recognize your “victories” (big and small), and push through the tough times by being cognizant of your goals. It’s also more than ok to ask for help along the way, and this does not show weakness. I needed help refocusing and creating a detailed plan of action to set and achieve my goals. By working with a career coach, I was able to break up my career search process into more manageable steps, and eventually, land my current job – one that challenges me and stimulates growth. Some days are definitely going to be more difficult than others, but if you focus on goals that are bigger than your fears and doubts, you can achieve anything. Remember, you’ve already made it this far!

Life is Unpredictable

Understand that life is unpredictable, and embrace it. When I started college, I thought I wanted to go into medicine, then, I shifted my focus to health and wellness, and now, I’m in programmatic digital advertising. I never could have predicted this path as a college Freshman. Everything I’ve done up to this point has taught me something more about my capabilities, my passions, and my future career goals. Working as a cashier right out of college seemed ignominious. However, two months after I started that job, the company relocated me from Texas to support a new market opening in Chicago. Moving to Chicago was a huge adjustment with its own fair share of ups and downs, but, through it all, I have gained new business management skills and learned more about myself. No matter what job you accept after college, take advantage of every opportunity to learn because all of these experiences will be applicable to future jobs and industries along your journey.

Always Be Approachable

It is very easy in today’s world to put on your headphones, tune out the world, and let your cell phone, tablet or laptop dictate your life. Instead, I encourage you to strike up real conversations with the people you encounter each day. You never know who you’re going to meet, what you might have in common, or what they might teach you about life. There have been many instances in my life when the kindness of strangers has turned my entire day around.

Remember that career coach who helped me to clarify my career goals? I didn’t just Google “oh-no-I-just-graduated-and-I-have-no-clue-what-I’m-doing-who-can-help-me-in-Chicago?” I was introduced to her while chatting with one of my regular customers, day after day. Eventually, this customer opened up to me about her unique career path, and how she also experienced some difficulty figuring out which next career steps to take before meeting Career Coach, Lisa Frank. As soon as I started working with Lisa, she helped me to identify a vision for my career. She offered valuable insight into what hiring managers are looking for (based on her experience working as a recruiter for many years), and she offered suggestions about practical next steps to help me reach my goals. Most importantly, she helped me realize my own strengths and learn how to apply them in many ways.

Learning about other people’s journeys has helped me to realize that patience and persistence are both crucial skills in achieving goals. I’ve also recognized that it’s okay if your route is not always the most direct, because there is so much to uncover, learn, and enjoy along the way.

Frankly Speaking: Take this time to get to know yourself. Be confident, take risks, work hard, and have fun. Take responsibility, stay focused, and know when to give yourself a much-deserved break. You are about to embark on a new chapter that will, without a doubt, continuously challenge you and shape you to become the person you want to be.

Katie Lopes is a graduate of the University of Texas – Austin, and is now living, working and loving her life as a young professional in Chicago.

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