Unsolicited advice from a college dropout
Congratulations. You did it. You got through high school or college or whatever. So, like, what now? More school? Enter the workforce? Backpacking through Europe?
When I graduated from high school, college seemed to be the next step. I never really thought about other options. That’s what all my classmates were doing (or at least that was my perception), so that’s what I did. Long story short, I wasn’t ready for higher learning and I ended up dropping out. From there I took a long and winding path to get my career started. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and give myself some advice right after I graduated from high school. Emerge from a flaming DeLorean and warn my past self to listen up or the consequences could be dire! Knowing who I was back then, I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway.
Here are a few tips for recent grads of any kind. Be smarter than my past self. Listen up.
Focus on one thing
Lots of people will tell you to follow your dreams. That’s good advice, but I would alter it a bit: Follow one dream. If you want to be successful, the best way to get there is by becoming an expert at something. Pick something and pursue it with everything you’ve got.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having multiple passions. Those other interests outside of the one thing are called hobbies. It’s good to have hobbies. But don’t let your hobbies distract you from that one thing.
It’s enticing to want to be a jack of all trades. It’s good to want to be a well rounded person. But as the phrase goes, a jack of all trades is a master of none. If you want to be an expert at something, focus on one thing.
Let that thing evolve
You may have an idea of what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. Great! Consider that a starting point. You may find that pursuing one thing leads you to something else. That’s fine. There is no “one true path”. Be open to adjusting your course.
When I was ten years old I knew I was going to be a cartoonist when I grew up. At the age of fifteen I knew I was going to be an artist. At twenty I knew I was going to be a graphic designer. At twenty-five, a web designer. At thirty, a UI designer. At thirty-five, a product designer. Who knows what I’ll know when I’m… gulp… forty?
My point is, no one can know what they’re going to do for the rest of their life. Don’t be rigid. Learn to improvise. Everything changes. Embrace that.
Do the next thing
You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. Maybe that’s daunting. Maybe not. But whether you’ve got big plans or no plans at all, my advice is the same: Take things one step at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed.
Plan ahead, make long term goals. Don’t lose sight of the big picture. But focus on the next task at hand. Long term goals are supported by mid and short term goals. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there.
Okay, to sum up: Don’t chase after every dream, just the one that matters most to you. Hold on to that dream loosely, and be okay with it changing. And focus on taking things one day, one task at a time. Nothing earth shattering. But this really is stuff I wish I’d known after I graduated.
You’re a graduate. The world is your oyster. Go get ’em, kid.