You know that feeling when you walk into the kitchen and forget what you were doing? That’s how I felt the entire month of August after my college graduation, seven years ago. It was disorienting to not go over fall class schedules with friends. It was odd to not know who I would see “so soon!!” It was weird to not discuss terrible collegiate decor, such as who would bring the Audrey Hepburn poster (and which one), and who’s mom offered to buy a new rug. It was even weird to not go to Staples or Target. I had no need to; I had an internship. The company supplied the pens.
That first post-collegiate summer was one of the weirdest summers of my life. I was thrilled to be out of school, to be an “adult,” finally, to feel like I was on my own, making things happen (kind of). But I was desperate for a job, a real one. The Dream one. I missed the friendships I wasn’t so sure would survive an existence outside of a collegiate microcosm. I was suddenly aware of being the cliché “small fish” in what felt like the largest, most intimidating pond on the planet, one with a lot of alligators that swallowed people whole and slimy seaweed on the bottom. Every week that passed I agonized about the wasted breath of my last “real” summer. Every day that passed, I stressed out more and more about my future.
I mean, it wasn’t so dramatic. I had fun. I was 22 and living in New York City and possessed more energy than I’ll ever have again. But about every five seconds, I’d think: What the fuck am I doing?
There’s no guidebook for this time in your life but there is — more than you think — some precedent. At the very least, you begin to realize you’re not the only one who [fill in the blank with a projection of the greatest worry currently lodged in your brain]. Of the things I’ve since learned, there are six in particular I wish I knew during that first “back-to-school” post-grad August.
Remember: this is the first time in a long time you haven’t had a clear-set trajectory.
My dad is a college professor. He has educated and advised adult teenagers and young adults for 30 years of his life. Skills honed during his tenure and as a dad have made him an expert at post-collegiate existential crises. He said something to me when I was a sophomore that I wish I remembered that first summer after graduation (of course, it wasn’t until a few years later that his words came back to me): That first August after graduation, which is completely devoid of course schedules and syllabi, is the first time since kindergarten that you’re not on a clear-set trajectory, complete with a print out of what to supplies buy, what to read, what room to go to, where to sit, what to do next.
For most of your life, you’ve known at least the next ten steps: After fifth grade comes six grade, after sixth, seventh, etc. Even if you entered college undeclared, arms flailing because you had no clue what you wanted to do, there were required courses you had to take. This is the first time there is no curriculum, no rubric. Of course you feel as freaked out as you do. Give yourself a break.
If you want a full-time job, put more effort into applying for full-time jobs than internships.
I’m not going to tell you not to pursue potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, like resume-boosting internships that could lead to big things. Everyone’s financial situation is different, I’m not your mom, and I’m not omniscient. But if what you want is a full-time job, and not having one is keeping you up at night, I advise that you put a majority of your application efforts into full-time positions.
Only apply to new internships as something to keep you tuned-up in the meantime. If an internship description explicitly states that the internship could turn into a full-time position within an amount of time that sounds reasonable (and it’s not an ambiguous, verbal “maybe”), you should still apply to full-time jobs and take those interviews, then weigh your options.
Be clear in your interview that you will, during your internships, be applying for jobs and taking interviews simultaneously. If your summer internship has ended and you’re applying but no full-time job has come up yet, contact your summer internship employer and see if you can take on freelance work as you search. Be patient, yes, but be diligent. Attack the job hunt like an exciting challenge rather than the worst thing on your to-do list, because while work has its moments of “suck,” this part of your life is exciting.
And within all of that, breathe deeply. You will get a job. You are on your way. You are doing the right things. You are not a degenerate because you don’t have one yet. You’re doing great.
Buy two interview outfits and alternate them over and over.
It’s one less thing to think about before or on important mornings. Note: They need to look professional and presentable, not expensive. Also, always bring three copies of your resume. Leave the house half an hour before you think you should. Arrive early. Keep simple stationary with pre-stamped envelopes in your portfolio bag so that you can send a thank you card right away. Send an email thanking your interviewer for her time as well. Keep deodorant in your purse.
Comparing your career trajectory to those of your friends, family members, people on TV, a girl you just passed on the street, is not helpful.
Repeat after me: “I am my own person and my own path is different from everyone else’s.” You know how a sixth grade class lineup looks like a city skyline because there’s no more uniformity to height and body type? That’s how careers are going to start looking at this stage. Every person is going at his or her own pace, no one way is more right than another. I promise that if you feel like the short kid now, you will look around in a few years and feel far more at peace with where you stand…and then it kind of starts over again. But I think that’s what keeps us going.
Please have fun. You are still kind of a kid.
No matter the weather or your current 9-to-5 (or worse) (or lack thereof) hours, do something that brings you joy this week. Call someone who makes you laugh. Ride your bike. Eat ice cream. I don’t know how to get you to do it, but try not to rush from this point in your life into adulthood. Skip rocks along the way. Look up at the stars and the clouds or whatever it is people who live in the moment do. Ugh, it sounds so cheesy, but I’m telling you: I wish I listened every time someone reminded me of this, because I have never once looked back in retrospect to pat myself on the back for freaking out about something.
For as pivotal as this time in your life is, nothing is set in stone.
You are allowed to change your mind. You are allowed to make mistakes — learn, and follow them up with solutions. You are allowed to zig zag and go up and down and be confused, worried and terrified. You’re allowed to find new friends, realize you don’t like them that much, then find new ones. You can do the same thing with cities. All of this is fine. There is no grand deadline for you to do all the things you thought you’d do after graduation. Just because you graduated now doesn’t mean you’re done messing up, either. So when August begins to sound like it’s counting down to an alarm that screams, “TIME’S UP! Either get your shit together or get off the pot,” kick that thing off your metaphorical nightstand and tell it to calm the hell down.
But do give yourself a chance to get things right. There’s no perfect answer, but there is a reason you came into the kitchen. If you get on with your life, it will come to you.