Huffpost College
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mark Gilman Headshot

College Graduates: You're Doing it Wrong, and it's OK.

Posted: Updated:

Congratulations, you just graduated college! I bet a lot of people are asking you what you're going to do. I always hated that question because I had no clue, so I had to, either:

A) Lie, to not appear to be a doofus, or...
B) Answer, "I dunno" and look like a doofus.

When choosing what to do next, there is this sense that choosing the right thing makes you smart. If you choose the wrong thing, then you're are a dummy. All of this is a load of hooey. Here are some sobering facts:

1) College and the years of schooling before it are nothing like the working world.

2) You'll be forced to compromise your dreams in order to pay your rent. There will be no ordered structure to cling to, nor an administration to complain to if your boss is a jerk.

3) School is designed to address your needs. The working world is about addressing your boss's needs. Pleading doesn't get you far, and showing up late will get you fired (trust me on this one, I had to learn this the hard way, several times).

4) Even if you've had some internships or jobs already, there is something about having to pay your own rent that changes your worldview.

5) So here's the honest-to-goodness-truth: no matter what you do, you won't be doing it right. Sorry.

There is a lot of great advice out there, but it'll never be perfect. You've got to realize that whenever adults wax on how you should spend your college or post-college years, they are doing it through the prism of their own experience. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, is an evaluation of their life -- not yours. Also, memory is often very selective. In essence, their wisdom is always tailored toward their imaginary younger selves that they wish they could have knocked some sense into.

Of course, there are words of encouragement that fill your heart, make you stand up, and feel you can take on a dragon. But that feeling never lasts. At best, that feeling will be faint background music to the drone of work, laundry, grocery shopping, and bill paying. It takes a lot of work to hold on to your ideals. You can do it, but you don't need to be filled with genius inspiration every moment either.

So what do you do?

Simple: move forward and don't care if things aren't great all of the time. There are some amazing jobs that will embrace a fresh college graduate and give him or her all of the nurturing and stimulation needed, but those jobs are few and far between.

So take a shitty job or internship simply because it's better than laying around at home texting about how bored you are. There is something ennobling about earning your keep, and while you work, you'll get a better idea of what you want to do. Having a bad job is a better motivator for a job hunt than no job at all. Again, trust me on this one. I spent a lot of hours playing Starcraft instead of writing my resume.

Yes, there are people who get into a career right out of college -- and thirty years later, are pleased as punch about the whole thing. I'm going to call those people "folks I like to throw spitballs at." They don't matter right now. Don't try to be one of them. Many fail at it, so in their 40's and 50's they start buying exotic cars and getting botox in a desperate attempt to seize a youth they lost via blind career ambition.

Here's another big truth: there is no such thing as "made it." That's a feeling, not a place, salary, or job title. If success made people truly happy there would be no TMZ, E! Channel, or Celebrity Apprentice. For the next decade or so, you're going to have big moments of panic, insecurity and fear. That's not because you are awful, and your life is awful. It's actually because the parts of your brain in charge of decision making, reflection, and emotional regulation don't finish maturing until you are in your thirties. So you'll be prone to feeling suicidal over that thing you said to your boss that was totally wrong, while in reality your boss forgot it, and then ate a sandwich.

The good news is that these moments of realization, panic, and their aftermath will slowly teach you the perspective to define your own idea of what "made it" is all about. Sure your parents, friends, mentors, music, TV, and film tell you what "made it" should be. But the reality is that "made it" is different from person to person. For some, it's having kids, for others, no kids. Some hunger for the city, others dream of living on a farm, or the suburbs. When you feel yourself stressing about these things, relax. There is always another day. Don't worry about screwing up, you'll figure it out as you go along. That's how every person who's really "made it" has done it.