Repeat After Me: I Am a New College Grad and I Am Not a Failure

Illustration by Michelle Sheu.

Throughout my childhood, I was taught that if I wanted a successful career, I must go to college. That all the stars will align when I get to this elusive higher state, and that my anxieties about “adulting” will be quelled upon completion of a Bachelors. Yet here we are, approaching graduation, looking ahead to an imperceptible path ahead of us.

Fast forward a few months ahead, I will be walking in the class of 2018 graduation ceremony along with my bright and inspiring colleagues. The painfully obvious rite of passage following graduation is, obtaining that very first entry-level position. Some of us will have a job lined up and will jump right in, maybe to a new city or to a city we’ve grown with. Some of us will be looking at an undefined scope of ambitions and direction; a grey area that only time can tell where we will eventually land.

During this mentally taxing and intimidating process of transitioning from college student to college graduate, hopefully with a job and savings, I must remind myself of several key things that I’d like to echo to you dear reader.

Now fresh out of college:
Your academic background and major does not define you.

While we may specialize in what we have spent the past few years studying, we should not be pigeonholed exclusively to this background. This especially applies to liberal arts graduates who may feel nervous about finding a job that matches a narrow profile. I am a staunch believer in a well-rounded education, enabling individuals to leverage an open mind to adapt to new skills and take advantage of on-the-job learning. Now, fresh out of college, schooling no longer interferes with your education.

Furthermore, if we were to stand by the titles of our degree type and major, then we are more susceptible to cognitive dissonance when we try to break out of that prescribed expectation. People are fickle, and it is fine or even encouraged to branch out or change tracks.

About your first job:
Your net salary does not define the value of the work you do.

Self-starters who dive into ventures like starting their own business, those working with a startup or nonprofit may sweat at the sight of the starting salary or initial investment. Beyond handling the living expenses and financial logistics, those commas and zeroes or lack thereof can get inside your head. As social creatures, who for the life of us can’t stop comparing ourselves to one another, this might sting even more. It may be easy to say and read, but please remember that such starting rates are determined by complex factors that don’t necessarily consider the value you truly bring to the table. No one talks about the salaries of superheroes; the implication is that the value alone of making a difference is worthy enough.

However, this is not to undermine the real-world value you do bring. Just know that sometimes, improving the world may not always translate into high scale profit.

Shifting your frame of mind:
Embracing absolute ambiguity

Nothing is better than to conclude this article with some poetry about the uncertain future. “Negative capability”, termed by John Keats, was defined as “when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Keats continues to write that this is “the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.” In other words, Keats proposes to live a life brimmed with questions and mystery. This open-ended response to the fundamental question leaves an individual to be creative, non-judgmental and receptive to bold and bashful ideas.

An openness to vagueness is imperative in this time where we are all making it up as we go.