The Post College Let Down

It is the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go. – Jim Rohn

In a perfect world – at least as stories go – you graduate from college, degree in hand with a clear sense of purpose, direction and momentum. You’re off! Your ship has sailed into the great wide open.  At least, that’s what you think the outcome will be after 4 or 5 or 6+ years of college. The truth of the matter is that you will be in the thick of changing waters and treacherous seas – both personal and professional – for nearly a decade. Yes…a decade.

 

So what gives? Why do we spend time, money, and energy focused on a degree, only to graduate without much lift? In fact, to graduate with a muddled sense of “what’s next?” In college, you focus on the immediate future: tasks and deadlines to be completed by the end of the day, week, or academic year. Internships that seem to align with your major. Events and opportunities that promise connections you may need to land a job. But what you’re doing for those 4 years is merely akin to the shipbuilding process: creating a structure that you hope sails smoothly into unknown territory. Simply put, college will help you build a sturdy ship, but it will not necessarily give you direction on how to sail.

 

This is precisely what the problem is. From the moment you graduate, your ship leaves the harbor and the wind kicks up. If you don’t know how to adjust your own sails – or don’t have a solid team helping to guide you in the initial sailing process – your ship sets out directionless and at the mercy of whichever way the wind blows (for many, this translates into going in circles leading nowhere fast….for about 4 years, according to the research trends).

 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Not at all.  It’s more major inconvenience, chaos, and discomfort. Many people call this part of the adventure the “Quarterlife Crisis” zone. While we hope and expect that college is one giant “ah ha” moment of light and truth and direction, it is not. Most recent grads simply find themselves in their twenties wondering how to move forward and get out of Stuck-ville.  Likely wondering “Is this really ‘it?'” and perhaps even considering rerouting altogether.

 

So what to do when you feel the big post-college let down?  Time to consider your sailing skill set. Time to chart your clear sense of purpose and direction. Time to articulate what you bring to the table and how it aligns with your next steps into a meaningful career and life that you want.

 

To find out how to move forward with more lift, stay tuned to future posts.

Who Are You? (And Why It Matters in an Interview)

Upon meeting Alice for the first time, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the caterpillar asks, through the smoke of his hookah, “Who are you?” Alice can hardly answer since she, herself, doesn’t quite know who she is. In the real world, we certainly don’t encounter talking caterpillars, nor do we find ourselves down rabbit holes in Wonderland. We do, however, find ourselves across a table from hiring professionals who pose the same question in a manner of ways. What’s your story? What should I know about you? What do you bring to the table?

 

So…how exactly should you avoid being like Alice and, instead, respond in a clear, articulate way leading to a great offer letter?

 

Let’s start by considering why hiring professionals love to ask this question in the first place. Two reasons really. First and foremost, they really do want to know who you are, in addition to verifying that you are consistent with who you say you are in cover letters, resumes, and portfolios. That’s fairly straightforward. The second (and more interesting) reason hiring personnel like to ask this question is that they are interested in assessing your level of self awareness.

 

Why does self awareness even matter, especially when you’re coming out of a great university with an excellent GPA and a line of internships with strong referrals to boot? Well, consider this: place someone of equal educational and experiential background next to someone who has spent time understanding who they really are and what they can offer. The choice becomes simple for the hiring manager.

 

The quality of self awareness allows us to reach our full potential, allows us to know our best qualities and how to use those qualities effectively, and furthermore, allows us to understand others better. Studies have shown that high self awareness scores are strong predictors in an employee’s overall success. Additionally, a high level of self awareness allows a hiring manager to feel more comfortable that you’ve done your homework and considered how much of a great fit you are for the role and company. In short, self awareness allows you to play better in the sandbox of life.

 

Let’s now return to the original and secondary questions: Who are you….and how do you answer that question articulately and with a deep sense of self awareness? The question begs you to unveil your strengths, skills, interests, and core philosophies. To reach that point, here are a few tips:

 

  1. Reflect on your values, strengths, and top skills
  2. Develop a mission statement; consider what you’d like your legacy to be
  3. Read a myriad of books and/or take courses in self-awareness
  4. Take as many assessments and inventories as possible. A simple and most-effective starting point I like to use with all my clients is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) paired with Strengths Finder 2.0. In fact, taking assessments like the MBTI, Strengths Finder 2.0, Enneagram, Strong Inventory, Firo-B, etc. is an excellent way to better understand yourself from a variety of angles.

 

The key take-away here is the following: in order to be a best candidate, you must know yourself well.   Don’t only prepare for interviews and networking opportunities by rehearsing answers to typical questions; spend time understanding who you really are on a deep level – your preferences, strengths, skills, interests, passions, vision for the future, even, your expectations for yourself. Stammering in front of your next interviewer, like Alice does in front of the caterpillar, won’t get you too far. Know yourself and nail the interview.

Recommended Reading: Books Every Self-Aware Twenty-Something Should Own

My clients often ask me for recommended reads that can help them get “unstuck” as they navigate through their quarterlife crisis.    Here is a short list of top books I think every self-aware Millennial should have on their shelves [Please note: books listed are not cited in formal MLA or APA form]:

 

Man’s Search For Meaning (Viktor Frankl)

Succeed (Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD)

The Defining Decade (Meg Jay, PhD)

The M-factor (Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman)

The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)

The Happiness Advantage (Shawn Achor)

Hector and the Search for Happiness (Francois Lelord)

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol Dweck, PhD)

Lost & Found: How to Find Yourself in Your Twenties

I spent the majority of Saturday afternoons in my twenties heading to coffee shops on the weekends with the goal of trying to figure it out. “It” being life. Coffee cup in hand, I would chart out all the possibilities with pen and paper. Every single week, I would sit there and hope some bright beam of light would shine down on me offering that “Ah-ha” Oprah moment where everything would make sense and I’d know exactly what I should be doing with my life.

 

Now, it’s not like I looked lost to other people. I actually looked like I had everything figured out: by my 25th birthday, I had a couple degrees behind me, a job as a terrorism analyst that sounded responsible (and, dare I say, “cool” in the early post- 9/11 world). I had already traveled to nearly 15 countries, spent summers volunteering, and had managed to convince colleagues, friends and family that I knew exactly what I was doing with my life. Despite this polished veneer, I felt totally lost.

 

Fast forward five and a half years and I was in a different boat all together. Over the second half of my twenties, I gained a directed sense of purpose. Holding back on details of those 5 years, I’ll instead offer the top 3 things that helped me move from feeling lost to found. Coincidently, these are also some of the top things I work on with my clients who are in the midst of a quarterlife crisis. These 3 things help gain momentum and a greater sense of purpose:

 

 

  1. Go with the flow. Realize and accept that you actually won’t figure it out now. I used to have a greeting card on my bulletin board at work that said something like, “Don’t worry. Don’t hurry. Slow down. Trust the process.” Thanks to social media comparisons and our general fast pace of life, it’s very difficult to take a breath and realize that figuring out life is truly a process. We don’t start first grade expecting to graduate 12th grade in one day. Similarly, life in your twenties is a process; knowing your purpose and direction comes over time and as a result of great self awareness, inquiry, and experience. Get comfortable with not knowing yet. I wish someone had told me this so I wouldn’t have stressed every week at coffee shops trying to figure it all out in one swoop. Trust me and relax: It’s a process.
  2. Look for the themes in your life. One of my most trusted and respected advisors once told me to not only notice the themes in my life, but to honor them. Until that conversation, I hadn’t paid much attention to my past – more specifically, things in my past that I naturally loved and enjoyed doing, or that I was naturally interested in during my teens and early twenties. By noticing recurring themes in my life – that I love helping, teaching and coaching others, that I enjoy understanding human development, that I get excited about running programs and organizations – I was able to more clearly see that my direction and purpose had something to do with creating a company focused on empowering twenty-somethings to live meaningful lives sooner. A question for you: What interests and roles have you naturally gravitated toward in your life? Think of the ones that have given you joy and energy. Find those themes and honor them.
  3. Go. Do. Experience. There’s a class at Stanford called “Fail Fast Fail Often.” Based on a book of the same name and taught by the book’s authors, Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz., the class focuses on how to move forward successfully in life. Spoiler alert: the crux of it all is that you must do. My mistake in my twenties was sitting and thinking about doing. Instead, I would have benefited from someone nudging me to try new things that I might find interesting and doing new things all the time. By doing, we find out much more quickly what we like and what we don’t; we also are able to find our themes (mentioned in point #2 above) much more quickly and clearly. The momentum and wisdom we gain from doing, without a doubt, helps to move anyone from lost to found. So, the big take away here is: go out and do.

 

On a final note, I like to remind clients that life is actually not about connecting the dots. It’s about creating a series of dots in your twenties (and beyond) that are part of a much bigger picture. Think of it like George Seurat’s famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte: up close, you find only dots, but from a far, you find that those dots are part of a huge, beautiful picture. Feeling lost happens when we focus on one individual dot alone. Feeling found comes when we allow ourselves freedom to create many dots – some that don’t make total sense yet – while knowing that something much bigger is being created that often times takes some time to see.

 

 

 

Flash Back Friday: Flash Forward to Reality

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5 Simple Tips to Succeeding in Your First Job Out of College
Author: Stacy Rackusin
For a flashback Friday moment, I take you back to the 1990s to two classic movies: “Reality Bites” and “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.” Now, I’m completely disclosing my age right now, however these classic cult classics—however ridiculous and outdated— make a point about that time between high school, college and the great beyond. . .Reality. It’s a time of work,  career, and independence. These films do still hit home when it comes to the lack of skills to land the perfect job and having to take a job less desirable. While in the movies, there is a love connection, a perfect job finally landed, and a happy end, if lucky, that may happen.  But why roll the dice and hope for that. Get real and take the right steps to make that happen.
While I can’t give advise on finding love or a movie-style happy ending, I can offer a few important steps between school and job that can make landing your first job/career better and maybe easier to step into. Whether technology, finance, the arts, or non-profit, you can still learn a few key pointers when taking your first steps on a path after college.
When in college, you may have taken all right steps; you may have worked hard through four years with a solid academic record and a clear path toward achieving your BA or BS, participated in sports or clubs, done some university studies, and feel accomplished to tackle a job out of college.
Now. The reality. How do you take that academic knowledge and apply it in the workplace? If you want the manager position, have you ever managed a person? You see a great consultant position, so do you have the tools to consult and are expert in the field? What about if you are willing to start as an assistant in a department? Do you know how to make copies and correlate them, make a pdf to email, mail merge, speak to a variety of people on the phone?
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If you missed out on that internship during school to allow you to learn basics in the workplace and get a handle on working with others outside the academic environment, take creative steps to learn some of these basics to equip yourself to be competitive for the job position and thrive while in that position.
1. The small things DO matter:
Mail merging, spreadsheets, navigating office administrative skills, and learning to problem solve are key. It’s ok to ask, but there are some tasks you should be able to use your experience and common sense to figure out.
2. Get out of your comfort zone:
Interact with a variety of people in a variety of situations and activities. Learn customer service and how to handle being put on the spot. Learning different ways to communicate with a variety of people will give you an advantage no matter what your field. Because even if you are coding all day, don’t you want to know how to speak with HR or your boss about a raise?
3. Geek out: 
Know some data bases or at least how to navigate through one or two. Whether by using a computerized cash register, or working on some form of database, most companies have some form of inputting and extracting information in a computerized system. Just having some working knowledge to navigate is a great skill.
4. Research:
You are an expert at this for school, but what about for a job? Learn about the company to which you are applying. Check out the website, learn its mission, get a sense of the office or space environment. It will be important, including how you dress for the job interview and if hired, for the company environment. Most importantly, if there are multiple jobs you want to apply for in the same company but in very different areas, really consider what is the best fit and what is realistic. Don’t just apply to them all. Remember, you may want that Marketing Associate role but know the receptionist in the marketing department may be a better fit. That is ok. It’s a foot in the door and chance to learn from the ground up.
5.  Talk:
Put that phone down. Seriously. Talk in person to your friends, parents, people in the field for perspective. Its good to talk and share your thoughts as well as listen for feedback. Others have been in your place before- it’s not new, just new to you. It’s part of personal growth and being informed so you can make the best decision for you.
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So, where/how can I learn some of these things?
Volunteer. Its free and helps you learn a space that offers hands-on learning. Hospitals, nonprofits, law firms etc. can give you great experience. Its a time to listen, observe, learn. This is not about managing or leading necessarily. Its an exploration and understanding of you, your work style, comforts, likes and dislikes. Hey, why not even try guest bartending for a nonprofit?
Seek Advise and professional development. Get into a place that gives practical experience. From the SF Foundation Center, Toastmasters, ACT acting classes, and other organizations that can hone in on skills like public speaking and non profit skills 101.
Socialize in a networking environment. Meet others in the field of interest to get a mentor and learn a bit more about the nuances in the field.
Intern.  Invest in your long-term future. Take a step ahead early on while accepting that part-time job working in retail or the hospitality industry. Those are life skills you can’t learn elsewhere.
Go to the big G. We have it all around us.  Its there on our phones, iPads, computers. .. . search away, even if you don’t Google it.
Best final advise: 
Be open and have fun. It is only a first job after all. Make the most of it so you will gain good experience and solid stories that will help you get to the next job…one that will be an even better success.
Stacy Rackusin BIO INFO