A few things made me want to write this post: first, this week is when the class of 2015 at Virginia Tech, my alma mater, is graduating. Throughout my time there, as a member of the engineering sorority Alpha Omega Epsilon, I made several friends who are graduating this year (shoutout to Sierra and Erin, if you’re reading this!) and I am brought back to my own graduation just two short (yet very long!) years ago.
Second, I started making a list of “horribly stupid decisions that almost ruined me” today while curling my hair while chewing gum (I tend to put strands in my mouth to hold them out of the way temporarily, and this time it was nearly catastrophic).
I decided to let it out in the form of a blog post, in the hopes that perhaps some of you graduating will find it useful, and because I’m extremely excited and nervous about giving a talk in two days and have a lot of pent up energy. So, I present to you: Livi’s List of Graduation Advice that I wish someone had told me! (A.k.a Stupid Decisions I almost made, so you don’t have to)
Post Graduation Tip #1: You Do You
When we’re within a school system, it is very easy to follow a path and be successful. Growing up, it was pretty much assumed by everyone that I’d go to college after high school. While this may or may not be the case for today’s youth, it was the mindset I grew up in, and when graduating at 22 years old, I found myself, for the first time, left without a set of rules or expectations that other people told me to follow.
It was awesome and totally overwhelming.
There is an adjustment period after graduation where you get to make your own complete set of rules and guidelines for the first time in your life. For some people, it comes earlier. For others, later – but for me, the first time I realized that I didn’t automatically have a set of expectations to work towards was terrifying! I no longer had an external force holding me up to a set of standards, and it took me the better part of 18 months to figure out what I wanted to do. The whole point of college and school is to figure out what to do with your life, right? Well, someone neglected to point out to me that I got to decide EVERYTHING once I reached a certain point. Maybe you’re already there, maybe not – but for me, after graduation and realizing that I was the ONLY one responsible for my decisions – well, that was really scary and also incredibly motivating. That freedom you get when you move to college? It’s even more freeing in the “real world” (I hate that term, but am struggling to find a better one right now) and that can take some getting used to. You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed!
The stupid decision I almost made: Not forging my own path. It’s hard when we’re taught from a young age to follow a set of prescribed rules and objectives. After graduation, I wanted to make my own path and there were times where it seemed out of my reach or too hard, and I didn’t have someone guiding me through it. It turns out, that’s not such a bad problem! When I started making decisions based on what I really wanted, rather than what I thought society wanted from me, I became much happier and overall more pleasant to be around.
Post Graduation Tip #2: Don’t stop learning
I was one of those people who counted down the days until graduation. I was sure that the corporate lifestyle, which I had enjoyed immensely during internships, was destined to bring me joy. I couldn’t wait to leave campus and set out on my own life. I was tired of the tests, the homework assignments, the readings – I was ready to put it all into action!
I didn’t realize how much I missed learning until I fell into depression and stopped doing it.
When you go through life in a field that “teaches you how to learn,” everything in your educational history points towards testing how well you learn. It isn’t the best system for everyone, and I won’t argue that it is, but graduating and leaving the US educational system made me realize how little of that learning was self-motivated. It wasn’t until I found my passions in life (If you know me, you’ve probably realized that this is virtual reality!) that I became a self-motivated learner. I also got incredibly interested in brewing tea, which has further inspired me to learn more about my hobbies. Go out and find things that interest you and make an effort to keep learning! Whether it’s for your job or just for fun, there’s a chance you’ll realize you have an itch that learning scratches, and I encourage everyone graduating to think about what that may be for them, and don’t give up on learning new things once you’re out of school.
The stupid decision I almost made: Giving up on becoming a better developer. As a Program Manager, I didn’t have to write a lot of code at work, but I found myself missing it and I have since picked up four new programming languages that I absolutely love. Don’t knock something you hated in school – you might just be able to make it work for you in ways that surprise you.
Post Graduation Tip #3: Don’t become set in your ways
When I was getting ready to graduate, I was sure of two things: I was moving to Seattle, and I was going to be a very successful program manager for the rest of my career.
It’s two years later, and I never moved to Seattle. I am also no longer a program manager.
I assumed that by graduation, I was going to be the same person I was at that moment for the foreseeable future. I was an adult, right? I knew what I wanted, right?
Turns out, opportunity presents itself in ways that we don’t expect, at all. I got the amazing opportunity to move to the San Francisco Bay Area on a different team than the one I was expecting, and didn’t hesitate to accept it. After a year and a half with a great team in the bay as a PM, I was given the opportunity to branch out and work on a whole new set of skills a developer evangelist (which I didn’t even know was a thing when I graduated!)
I also ate my words when I moved to San Francisco proper a mere 4 years after writing a humorous listicle blog post about how I’d never live in SF. Oops.
Be open to new things as a new graduate, and don’t forget that we always have the opportunity to grow and change. When I was resistant to change, I was unhappy and wished that I was flexible – then I realized that I was in charge (see point number 1 above) and that I had the ability to change things.
The stupid decision I almost made: Not embracing change. I consider myself a very change-adverse person, but I made a decision to be more willing to change. It was a change in and of itself that I fight daily, but it works. I’ve been taking more risks and been willing to let go of ideas that I held onto as being “things I must be/do/be like”. Being more flexible and making the decision to go with the flow has given me opportunities that I never dreamed of in the past, and it’s been absolutely exhilarating!
Last, but certainly not least:
Post Graduation Tip #4: Don’t lose touch with people!
I used to think that friends were the people you saw all the time and hung out with a lot. After graduating, I realized that there isn’t a prescribed way to have friends (you may be sensing a pattern here!) and that I didn’t have to feel like my friends were only friends if I was talking to them every day or seeing them in classes. I still struggle desperately to keep in touch with as many people as I’d like to as regularly as I’d like to, but I’ve made a conscious effort to talk to people in my life even if it’s just a Facebook message every few months to say hi. It’s not about not caring anymore – it’s just about life being a crazy roller coaster that may or may not allow you ample time to talk to everyone you care about, every day.
The stupid decision I almost made: Not staying in touch with people because I didn’t think I had the time to be a “good friend”. That one’s pretty self explanatory – I will try to be a good friend regardless of how often I can be in the same state or country as a friend, amount of communication be dammed! Every friend I have brings me something special in my life, and even if I haven’t said anything in a while, it’s not that I’m not thinking about you – it’s that I know we’re both busy writing our stories!
If I could define adulthood based on my last two years, I’d call it “being a kid with the full capability of what society deems doable”. I still have times where I want to play on the swings, and I still have times where I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I’m messy and I clean up after myself. I make bad decisions and good ones. I still have days where I’m stressed out and have a tantrum in the silence of my own apartment in front of my cat, and then I pick myself up and have ice cream for dinner because that’s what I feel like doing.
Class of 2015, enjoy every minute of this terrifying, exhilarating, empty slate in front of you. Make the most of what you have going on, and prepare yourself for the world – it’s ready for you!