Reflections for the New Graduating Class
by Caitlin Saunders, Project Manager, Cook Ross Inc.
I have heard a mixed bag of reviews of my generation – some say that we’re job-hoppers and demanding employees, others say that we’re technology savvy and innovative. Some say a bit of both. No matter where your opinions fall on the subject, one thing that can be said is that a keen curiosity exists for Generation Y.
As a member of the Millenial generation, I’m willing to own all of the critiques -- both the good and the bad, because like those terrible social rumors you heard in high school, the critiques tend to based in truth. With that said, Generation Y –- like the technology that we grew up with –- is constantly transforming, growing and learning.
When I graduated from college, I felt like I knew myself and the world around me through and through (from what I’ve heard this is not a generational –based characteristic), but it turns out, I didn’t. It turns out the only thing that I know now with certainty is that I have a lot to learn. With this in mind, I wrote the lessons below to my younger sister, who is graduating in the Class of 2011 (so proud!), hoping to give her some guidance through her own exciting, exploratory, and trying transition from college to the real world.
The lessons below are those that I have learned since graduating from college. By no means am I speaking on behalf of my generation – in fact, I found that even within my closest circle of friends the journey over the past few years has been very different for each of us. But what this list means for me, and hopefully for those both younger and older, is that we are all constantly learning and how critical it is to allow ourselves and each other the space to do so (without critique).
1. You can be whoever you want to be from here on out. Do what you want to do. No one can tell you differently.
- This can be felt on so many levels. It first hit me the day my first paycheck was deposited into my account – I remember thinking, heart racing just a bit, I can do anything I want. (Please note that may happen for you too, but brace yourself for the later realization of rent, utilities and potential loans that need to be paid).
2. Surround yourself with good people – and let go of the ones who bring you down. It’s just not worth it.
- You will be balancing a job, a new life, family, and other commitments and you quickly find that your personal time is limited. As such you will have to make an active choice as to who you spend your time with. Invest in those who bring you joy and let go of those who don’t, It is sad to see that a few friendships may fall off because of this, but those that do were probably not worth your time.
- Don’t forget that even the best relationships take work. I have to make a concerted effort at times to see even my closest friends, but I can’t imagine being in this life without them.
3. Time to revamp those Facebook pics – take down the ones that don’t represent you in your best light aka. the ones you wouldn’t want your boss to see
- I know it was fun to roll through the Facebook pictures every week with friends in college, but it won’t be just your friends looking at them in the real world. Now that I’ve heard how those pictures can be discussed in the workplace and how they can be used against you – trust me, it’s just best to delete them.
4. Gone are the days where you can pull an all-nighter and power through the day. Get some rest--otherwise, your body, and your work, may suffer.
- It only takes a few late nights to pick up on this one. In school you could have a night out with friends, sit in a two hour morning class, and then have a few hours to catch up on some much needed sleep. Now, you have an entire day of work ahead of you and it doesn’t let up because you’re tired. (For those of you who are unaffected by the lack of sleep, you are a lucky few).
5. Taking care of yourself can be exhausting, but also extremely rewarding.
- I was at home for a recent family holiday sitting down to a delicious (and free!) homemade meal and I couldn’t help but think Isn’t this nice? This would be so easy… but then I think of the fact that I’m in control of my own life, that I have no one else to report to, and the trips that I’ve taken and the memories I’ve made because I can – and I know it’s all worth it.
6. Voicing your opinion is important. Be selective in choosing when to do so.
- My manager recently told me that saying yes to most things makes the times you say no that much more powerful. I think this statement is applicable to voicing your opinion as a young professional in the workplace. Exercising your voice is a critical exercise, but do so when you have something valuable to add that way you become a respected voice versus a background sound.
7. There’s a lot of grunt work and "paying your dues" in an entry-level position. Make the most of it. Surround yourself with people who you can learn from, who allow you to explore different paths, and who challenge/are willing to invest in you.
- After watching my friends and colleagues take on various jobs in a wide spectrum of industries, I have realized that there are not-so- glamorous aspects of every job. (Once you realize that, it’s a bit easier to relax.)
- With that said, what separates a good first job from one that is less desired is the opportunity for development. If you are fortunate enough to be exposed to various sectors of the business, work on projects that stretch your skill set, and/or allowed the opportunity to explore your interests you’ve got a good thing going. My thought –- take advantage of the resources around you and learn as much as you can.
8. Not all of your co-workers are going to be like your group of friends from college. Take the time to figure out how to best communicate with and relate to them.
- It’s bizarre when you realize there is no “right” way to communicate –- there are probably dozens of wrong ways, but no 100% fool-proof right way because everyone brings a different understanding to the table. A conversation may mean more to one person than an email, others may request emails only, and some may need a bit of both, but what’s important is that you find a way to connect with each other as mature, responsible adults. Your workplace is a space to learn as much about process and content as it is to learn about others.
9. Things in the real world take time. It’s okay if your three-year plan turns into five. Just remember to breathe and have compassion for yourself.
- I’m still working on this one. From what I understand this is a “generational characteristic.” For most of my life I have always equated faster to better –- a faster computer is better, a faster internet connection is better, a faster way to get from Point A to Point B is…better. With that said, I’m learning that this may not be the most realistic mindset for the real world. All I can say for now is: Things take time, you can only do so much, and try to go easy on yourself.
10. Being happy is the most important thing in life, so find a job that brings joy.
- I have worked with two companies since graduating – I’ve had an incredibly rewarding experience at my current company and perhaps a less than experience at the former. When you are unhappy at a job it will likely affect other pieces of your life, so find a place where you can work AND be happy. A job doesn’t have to be just a job, a way to pay the bills, it can be a place of fulfillment and growth.
11. You think you know yourself now? Wait two years. Don’t be surprised if everything changes.
- I understand what it’s like to think you have your whole life planned out, but now I also know what it’s like to revise or adjust that plan.
Believe it or not who you are and what you want out of life may shift. If you’re anything like me (aka you like to have every step planned out) ... that’s a pretty scary thought. But it’s also what keeps things exciting and helps you grow. Try to stay open to the changes and chances that come your way because more often than not things turn out better than you planned (perhaps that is the ultra optimistic Generation Y part of me talking?) Continue to learn, keep an open mind, and enjoy!