An Open Letter to New Grads: No One Knows What They’re Doing
An Open Letter to New Grads: No One Knows What They’re Doing
Reading Time: 8minutes
I dedicate this post to Miguel Betancourt, Hadley Nolan, Kelsey Johnson and the UCLA Graduating Class of 2016.
My “little” brother has been one of the most supportive people in my life during my career transition. He has loved and encouraged me throughout my failure and success. When I looked down on myself, he held me up. This post is dedicated to him and to everyone who has felt guilty for changing careers. For everyone who thought their job should be more meaningful, make them more money or be more enjoyable. You are enough and you are more than your career.
Cover photo courtesy of Kappa Kappa Gamma UCLA.
Dear New Grads ,
It doesn’t matter if you have five jobs lined up after graduation, are fleeing to South East Asia or invested four years into pre-med only to realize you don’t want to work in medicine…
You have no idea what you’re doing.
Seriously, even if you think you know what you’re doing, you don’t. Neither do the rest of us.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a bad thing and I’ll explain why.
Firstly, allow me to introduce myself (my name is HOV, HEY.. jk). My name is Stephanie Be and I graduated from UCLA in 2012. I thought I had it all figured out.
I had half a dozen job offers after graduation. A long list of student activities, dance, Greek life and a rich network from far too many internships. Upon graduation, I bought a one-way ticket to travel the world (I am not advising that you do this, this isn’t about what I did… it’s about what I’ve learned). My gap year never really came to an end. I’ve traveled to over 40 countries, and as an entrepreneur — small-business owner — I have friends in the creative industry, trade skills, in corporate America, medicine — you name it.
Four years post cap-and-gown, I can confirm that no one really has “it” figured out. Life is always throwing us curve balls, and even when you think you have something figured out, a new challenge will come your way (like babies, death, debt prevention). As I prepare to watch my brother and his friends walk the same path I walked to the podium, I’ll let you in on a little secret…
It sounds generic, cliche even. But it’s true. So as you scrutinize yourself to determine your present and your future, please know the following:
1. Your career does not define you.
Whether you choose to make a lot of money to be able to afford the things you love, or you choose to do the things you love whether or not you’ll make a lot money, is up to you. Neither path is better than the other.
That being said, you can choose to find love in any work you do, and yes, the really fun looking jobs probably won’t make you much income (at least at first, if ever).
The benefit of getting that promotion or breaching the next salary bracket might come at the cost of working longer hours or learning new skills — maybe even working for a company you don’t see yourself at long term.
The benefit of having a flexible schedule or pursing a passion-project might come at the cost of financial stability or job security.
Whichever path you take demands sacrifices and reaps perks.
3. You’ll probably switch careers or at least consider it.
I’ve tried several different things to get to where I am.
I’ll add that I have friends and former classmates who changed their minds too. Consider the friend with a Masters in National Security pursuing fashion; the top finance exec and the dentist obsessed with photography; the one who swapped dentistry for pharmacology; the girl who went to law school and never practiced law; the guy who builds websites, but made partner at a law firm by twenty-seven; the one joined the NFL and all of those who didn’t.
It’s almost unfair that at seventeen or twenty-one we’re supposed to know what we want to do with the rest of our life.
Society changes with time. We change with time. Change can be terrifying, but it can be great.
So go ahead, switch careers if you want to. You didn’t lose a year, four years or half a lifetime. That fear alone isn’t worth losing a future in something that might be a better fit.
4. Learn financial management.
I never understood why we don’t learn about taxes in middle school. Money makes the world go round. This isn’t a secret – you need to make enough money to support the type of lifestyle you would like to live. So either live more frugally/ simply or pick a career that makes more money.
Talk to a counselor, mentor, parents and friends to set realistic goals.
5. Travel or live in a new city at least once. Expose yourself to people different than you. Change the system.
It is typical in many cultures for people to take a gap year or regular, annual sabbaticals. Yes, in certain parts of the world, people get more than two weeks paid vacation and get off on time without being considered lazy.
Work hard and work smart, but fight the American system that demands that we only work. Fight for attainable education. Just imagine how expensive schooling will be by the time you have kids!
6. There is no such thing as self-made. Your success is constructed by the community you’re in.
Whether you were born into privilege, earned your way into it (or experienced both), you owe yourself AND the people in your life your success.
Outside of your hard and soft skills, your network is your most powerful professional asset.
Identify and follow mentors. Carefully choose your friends (and partners).
Let go of bad influences. Some people in our lives were only meant to be temporary. It doesn’t make them bad people, it just means that they can serve their purpose in one chapter and not fit into the rest of your story. Not every person (or every job) is meant for forever.
7. We are not invincible, but we are strong.
With rising technology, our generation has a lot more agency, more access to information and more mobility.
Yet we are human. With the recent shooting at my Alma Matter, I probably don’t need to remind you how easy it is for us to have everything taken. I learned this lesson my Junior year, when my Senior friend celebrated graduation and her night out drinking was met by a car accident.
I beg you to be gentle with yourself. Don’t work yourself to insanity. Don’t party yourself to your casket. I’m a big believer of “work hard, play hard” too. I want to live life to the fullest, but sometimes living life to the fullest is just emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually making time for the people you love — including yourself.
That being said, you can choose to challenge yourself and the society we live in.
It’s not a perfect world, but we must continue to fight for each other.
Vote. Stand up to bullies and predators. Protect each other. Be kind. Love each other.
Because we may not know where our next career is taking us, but at the end of the day, it won’t be our degree that defines us. It’ll be the impact we’ve left on the people we’ve met — and even those we’ll never get to meet.
You — not your career — is your legacy.
Your elders. Perhaps wiser, but continuously not knowing what we’re going.