You Just Graduated from College. What’s Next?

2 April 2021

Most students look forward to their graduation day as the grand accomplishment, the culmination of all their hard work, but graduation is really a beginning. The next five years after college or trade school are just as critical as the years spent there.

Life is a steady progression, and the best way to keep moving forward is to carefully consider key decisions. This requires the maturity you’ve gained in college and the vision to understand factors that will affect your future career. Here are a few questions to ask as you look ahead:

How do I tell my college self goodbye?

Transitioning from a responsible young adult in school to a responsible adult in the workplace can be difficult, especially in today’s uncertain times. You might be used to staying up late, cramming for tests, and having a packed social calendar and goals that extend only to the end of the term, but your career post-college will likely be much more long-term than school semesters.

A good way to begin the transition is to ritualize it. Attend your graduation ceremony (whether it be virtual or in person), and say goodbye to your college experience. But don’t let go of the work ethic that got you through college. Hold on to good study habits and the ability to make new friends and network. Remember to pray often.

What am I willing to sacrifice to reach my next milestone?

This is a tough one because you might feel like you’ve just finished a huge sacrifice, eating noodles and wearing the same three T-shirts for four years. But just as looking forward to graduation helped get you through the daily grind, looking forward to a professional milestone will help you plot a course. Keep your future self in mind. Be willing to sacrifice a little more time to develop the skills required.

Get in the habit of asking questions and learning. Ask mentors to lunch or to talk on the phone for a few minutes. Make a checklist of what it will take to move to the next level, and remember that the habits of self-discipline and delayed gratification bring lasting rewards.

What is my purpose in life?

This phrase can sound overwhelming and can be overused, but by finding purpose in what you do and understanding your divine nature, you can find peace and courage in difficult times.

Don’t confuse your career with your purpose. Yes, a career in an industry that suits you is great. Working for a company you believe in can also be great. But your purpose is personal, and it can blossom no matter where you work. You can find purpose in personal development, providing for your family, making a community better, contributing to the economy, helping others develop, and being a voice of fairness. What’s important is that this purpose is yours—part of your spiritual DNA.

How do I become successful at my job?

The first few years of a career are critical, and humility is one of the secrets to success. Be humble and teachable. Focus on helping your employer and your company be successful, and your own success will follow.

People enter the workforce full of confidence and anxious to prove themselves. That’s great. But what many employers want are people who are willing to learn and are self-motivated to work for the good of the team.

What if I don’t love my job?

Very few people love their job all the time. Try to love most of it. Find parts that you enjoy and build on them. Work can be hard, but it can also be a valuable opportunity to learn and grow. So don’t be overly anxious to leave.

However, in some circumstances you might need to leave your job and search for a new one. At any stage in your career, be willing to learn and to gain new skills. This will make you more valuable to an employer both now and in the future.

How do I keep progressing?

This is a question many people ask in their late 30s and 40s. They’ve mastered enough skills to be valuable in the workplace, yet they are bored. It can happen to any of us. We can get in a rut of getting things done, being satisfied with the effort, and calling it a day. That plateau can be discouraging.

Remember, your identity is not tied to the place where you work or the job title you have been given. It can be hard not to let your work define you—you have friends at work, you have a routine at work, you talk about your work outside of work. But it’s important to remember that your work is a part of you, not who you are.

There are many ways to progress both personally and professionally. Improving your skills and relationships at work is one way to keep moving forward. It’s also important to invest in your life outside of work: get involved in the community, serve others, and work on becoming the best friend, spouse, or parent you can be. Many books and courses on self-improvement offer great ideas and insights for moving forward in life.

Asking the questions above is a good start. But one you can ask yourself every day is “Whose life can I make a difference in?” If you remember this vision of who you really are, you can align with it in your day-to-day life.