The Shriver Report – 7 Things Learned Since Entering the Real World
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7 Things Learned Since Entering the Real World

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I recently wrapped up lecturing to my first college class, which:

A) Sounds really funny to say

B) Is something I have always wanted to do, mainly because I was what you would call – reluctant to enter the “real” world. And since graduating in 2002…I’ve really never stopped trying to find my way back to college.

I got College. And College got me. I loved learning, mind-stretching, and being surrounded by the safety of people who, more than a decade later, are still my best friends in the entire world. But alas, I couldn’t remain a student for all of eternity…so I became a journalist. A student of life, if you will.

Not exactly the same, but it had to do.

But I always knew that I wanted to make my way back to the utopian existence I called college, even if for just a brief moment. So last year, I took a trip up so visit Ithaca, New York to soak in the vibe I fell so much in love with. And while I was there, I chatted with the Associate Dean of my alma mater. He asked if I would be interested in speaking to some of the students and I said, “Sure! I’d love to…I never wanted to leave in the first place. You guys forced me to when I completed all of my coursework!”

Suddenly, I flashed back to that late May afternoon, when I drove away from the apartment I shared with my two best friends, about a week after getting my diploma. I remember crying so hard that I had to pull my teal green Ford Probe over to the side of the road and get myself together, so I could actually see on my four hour car ride to my parents’ house.

After graduating, I felt like I was staring out into the dark abyss, and had no light to help illuminate the path ahead of me. When you are required to complete this many credits, in this much time, and show up to class at this moment, and hand in your paper by this deadline – there is a routine, a rhythm, A PLAN. (And regardless of how many pairs of Birkenstocks I have owned, no one loves a plan as much as this girl right her. A plan that can be changed or modified as needed :-))

But days after graduation, I had no rhythm, no plan, nothing. Yes, I had sent out tons of job applications and harassed (within the bounds of the law), the news network where I had previously interned, but I felt so…so…scared, as if I knew nothing and was being forced to carry on without my awesome friends by my side.

The good news is…it all has worked out pretty well since those days, and the very least I could do is impart that peace of mind on the students I spoke with over the past couple weeks.

But the reality is, no matter how much wisdom we try to pass along to the recently graduated, we can’t totally rid them of their angst. Those growing pains are part of the journey…mourning the loss of your own childhood and becoming a grown-up isn’t easy – no matter how you cut it.

I do, however, think we can ease some of the terror that comes with it, by sharing insight from those who have not just survived the transition into adulthood – but thrived. And in the meantime perhaps see how far we have come since then too.

So now that I have a few (or 12) years of life under my belt since the cap and gown days, here are some of my tips.

Develop your own advisory committee and listen to them. You probably began to form your advisory committee in college without even knowing it. They are the besties, your parents, your siblings, your professors…you know who those people are. They are the ones that want what’s best for you and will always give you an honest piece of advice…you will continue to meet those types of people. Lean on them, survey them and thank them.

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Do your best, even if no one is watching. Now that you are part of the work world, someone won’t always be grading you…but you will always know if you work (personal or professional) is up to par. Set you own standards and meet them. There is great peace of mind in knowing you gave something your all – and as an adult, you will need as much peace of mind as you can get. Believe me.

Make air not art. Sometimes the best you can actually do is get something done. When I was up against the clock, a favorite senior producer of mine used to remind me done is better than 2 minutes of black on the air. Do the best you can but sometimes just getting out the door in the morning will be an accomplishment. Know you aren’t alone in that sentiment.

They all can’t be good days. They just can’t. Enjoy the awesome ones and use that energy to carry you through the not so awesome ones. And on the shitty ones, call someone from your advisory committee who can offer great perspective and perhaps some humor as an antidote.

Don’t be afraid to recalibrate. You know those plans you have in your head right now? Or the ones that are forming as you read this? It is awesome to have ‘em, and even more awesome to know when to rewrite them or simply toss them aside and start over with a clean mental piece of paper in front of you. As one of the members of my advisory committee says, “The old dreams were good dreams, I’m sad they didn’t work out, but I’m glad I had them.”

It’s gonna be messy. Accept it, role up your sleeves, and dive in. It just is. Nothing fits nicely into a little box, and there is no secret formula you are missing to make it do so.

Life happens…work demands things from you…the apartment floods, the baby has a fever, the dog is sick, the deadline is looming and you will wonder why it is all such a tightrope act some days. Everyone wonders that. And most people I know are also doing the best they can with what they have in order to make it work, so know you aren’t alone. Messy isn’t bad…it’s just not tidy.

You’ll never have it all figured out. I recall a conversation I had with my dad a few years after graduating college and I told him I was concerned that perhaps a career in news wasn’t what I wanted to with the rest of my life. (He did not seem surprised by this revelation). And he said, “I have been working for more than 30 years and I still wonder if this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. Everyone does.”
My jaw dropped open. “Wait? I am not the only one who doesn’t have it all figured out?”

“No,” he said, “Accepting that you might never have it all figured out is just part of becoming a grownup.”

 This post originally ran on Cara’s blog, Me & Ducky.

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