This past weekend I was back in Happy Valley, PA to watch my brother Johnny graduate from Penn State with his degree in Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
I feel so fortunate that my entire family and I were able to celebrate Johnny‘s accomplishments, and I am so proud to have my brother join our tiny little group we call the PSU Alumni Association. (JK we are literally everywhere, PSU is the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world!)
I couldn’t help but think back during this weekend to when I was sitting in those same seats just 3 years ago on my graduation day. I can recall being so relieved that I was done with exams, studying, and learning new course material. I can also recall feeling a bit groggy from the previous evenings festivities at the Phyrst just 7 hours prior to that 9:00 AM commencement, so the headache was distracting me from too much sentimental reflection.
However with 3 years gone by now I've had some time to catch up on that important reflection. I was naïve to think that my learning stopped on graduation day. In many ways it was just getting started. There’s so much I wish I could go back and tell myself from 3 years ago. I hope to share some of that now, both for all of those new grads joining us alumni, and my fellow recent grads still wading through this winding river of the working world.
It's alright if you don't have it all figured out. Odds are you don't.
I'm sure I speak for many when I say that uncertainty causes a great deal of anxiety for me. For many college graduates out there today, it is highly likely that you followed this exact path up to this very point:
Primary School, Get good grades-> High School, Get good grades,-> College, Get good grades,-> Internship, Meet internship expectations -> Graduate, Get good job- >Job....Retire...?
This path has become the staple trajectory of most millennials and now gen Z's. The large problem with this path, is that once we reach that final stepping stone of "Job," there is no certain and planned out next step. I imagine this path to the final job process similar to a winding river. We run down-stream for our entire known existence, winding from bank to bank as we bounce from each stepping stone to the next. And once we finally reach the final delta of this river, we're thrown out to the massive ocean that is life. There is no clear path or next step that is clearly carved out for us once we reach that destination.
When I was sitting in that chair 3 years ago, I hadn't fully recognized the size of that ocean I was jumping into. I'm sure there are many grads this weekend who haven't seen the size of it yet themselves.
For many of us, we've been programmed to work towards this graduation date for most of our lives. We are told to pick a major or profession to focus our entire life's work on, often times before we've even had a legal sip of beer. We are held to these expectations throughout our entire life to get good grades, get good grades, get good jobs. Repeat. I do believe we will see a massive shift in the way we as society view education, and how we assess "good grades" in coming decades, however at the moment this is the reality that we face. As someone who feels fortunate to have attended a great school, with ample amounts of resources and opportunities to learn about the "real world," with things like corporate internships and career coaching readily available, nothing can truly prepare you for it until you're in it. No amount of education or experience that has been provided to us through the current education model will fully prepare us for the real world.
And that's okay.
I hope the grads that are jumping into the ocean and swimming with the rest of us can be made more aware of this than I was three years ago. I've always put an unfair amount of pressure on myself to have everything go according to plan, excel in whatever role I am given, and strive for the absolute best outcome possible. I've always applied this pressure into everything I've ever done, and while this mindset has allowed for some levels of success, it has also provided me with difficulties adjusting to life's changes.
Because not everything is going to go according to plan. That major you thought you were going to spend your whole life working in, might not just be what you end up doing. That first job might not be all that it was cracked up to be. Or the second. Or the third. Try your best to not overthink what everyone else is doing and comparing yourself to others. Because truth is, they're all in that same big ocean as you are.
Just keep swimming.