Tag Archives: graduation

What I’ve Learned About The Real World (So Far)

When I was in college, I thought it was never going to end.  I was untouchable, working two nights a week in Miami as a club bartender and making more than what most people make in two weeks.  I went out the other five nights of the week and still managed to maintain a 3.8 GPA.  And then I graduated and everything changed.

I knew that bartending was not a career, not for me at least, so I made my way into the real world.  I quickly learned that it can be pretty rough.  It stressed me out so much the first time that it was a big factor in going back to get my Master’s degree.  Another 18 months of being a student was lovely, but then I was forced to graduate and grow up once again.

I will break this article up into two parts– post-undergrad and post-master’s degree–because I learned valuable lessons each time.


I can do anything.  Now that I was finished writing papers and pulling all-night study sessions, I suddenly had all this spare time on my hands.  Take full advantage, as this is your time to live it up.  Most likely you are not employed at a serious job, married or a parent.  Nothing is holding you down and this might be the only time for the rest of your life that you have this chance.  So go backpacking, experience life in a new city, learn yoga or jump out of a plane.  In the six months following graduation, I did a cross-country road trip, moved to Los Angeles, went to Israel with 40 strangers and got into the best shape of my life.  Live a little, before life ties you down.

My college lifestyle was so unhealthy.  When I was in school, I was the vending machine’s best customer and ate Quizno’s, Wendy’s and Pollo Tropical on a daily basis.  I’d stay up for days before a big paper was due, consuming espresso and Adderall to stay awake.  Once my paper was finished and turned in, I’d go out with my friends instead of catching up on my sleep.  I don’t know how it did it.

It’s hard out there to get a job.  Not many companies are hiring these days, but when they do, there are dozens of people who will fight you for the position.  Having a large pool of people to choose from makes these companies very picky.  It seems like they all want someone who has tons of experience, speaks four languages, doesn’t mind picking up the owner’s dry cleaning and is willing to do it all for $10 an hour.

It’s all about who you know.  Given what I just said, having a good connection can be extremely helpful.  It could be an “in,” or introduce you to other important people that you can learn from.  Networking and connecting is everything, because you never know who you might need or run into at some point.  The world is much smaller than I thought.

Internships are important.  My one regret from college is that I slacked on internships.  I missed out on meeting and learning from valuable people while I was still in school, so it was harder to get a job after graduation.  Everywhere that I applied wanted me to start off as an intern.

Your first job won’t be perfection.  I consider my first “real job” to be at a fashion PR agency in LA.  I was an unpaid intern that they started paying, mostly in clothes, once I made myself valuable to my boss.   I did this by going to every vegan restaurant in town to pick up food for her, dealing with the whiny swimsuit models at fashion shows on my weekends and getting screamed at by publicists wondering where their celebrity client’s free gifts were.  It was far from glamorous, but I learned a lot and had to start somewhere.

You don’t have to stay at this horrible first job forever.  I realized fashion PR was not for me pretty quickly.  Nevertheless, I stuck it out for a few months so I had some experience on the resume and then left to pursue other things.  I haven’t looked back.

Now is the best time to go back to school.  Your mind is fresh, you haven’t forgotten everything you learned and nothing is tying you down.  If you are considering going to grad school, right after undergrad is a great time to do it.


It’s still hard out there to get a job.  I felt a little cooler at job interviews saying that I now have a master’s degree, but I still faced the same problems that I did post-undergrad.  I lucked out and reconnected with an old high school friend who got me in at his company.  Yeah, it’s all about who you know.

My take-home pay is not as much as I thought.  The only thing that was worse than finding out how low my entry-level salary was going to be was seeing my take-home pay amount on that first paycheck.  It makes me miss the bartending days of bringing home wads of undeclared cash each night.

An emergency bank account is important.  Last year I started a savings account that takes $40 from my checking each month.  I now have about $850 that I didn’t even miss that I can use if I ever need it.  I understand that at some point I will probably get sick or hurt and I will need it.  If not, it’s nice to know that I have a little cash to buy myself something nice.

Student loans are borrowed money.  Next month will be six months since graduation, and I will have to make my first payment.  It’s about to get real.

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What They Don’t Tell You At Graduation

I would have loved it if my commencement speaker had given out tips like this at my graduation.  These were adapted from “10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said,” by Charles Wheelan and I thought they were worth sharing.

1. Your time in fraternity basements was well spent. The same goes for the time you spent playing intramural sports, working on the school newspaper or just hanging with friends. Research tells us that one of the most important causal factors associated with happiness and well-being is your meaningful connections with other human beings. Look around today. Certainly one benchmark of your postgraduation success should be how many of these people are still your close friends in 10 or 20 years.

2. Some of your worst days lie ahead. Graduation is a happy day. But my job is to tell you that if you are going to do anything worthwhile, you will face periods of grinding self-doubt and failure. Be prepared to work through them. I’ll spare you my personal details, other than to say that one year after college graduation I had no job, less than $500 in assets, and I was living with an elderly retired couple. The only difference between when I graduated and today is that now no one can afford to retire.

3. Don’t make the world worse. I know that I’m supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I’m going to lower the bar here: Just don’t use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that “changing the world” also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.

4. Marry someone smarter than you are. When I was getting a Ph.D., my wife Leah had a steady income. When she wanted to start a software company, I had a job with health benefits. (To clarify, having a “spouse with benefits” is different from having a “friend with benefits.”) You will do better in life if you have a second economic oar in the water. I also want to alert you to the fact that commencement is like shooting smart fish in a barrel. The Phi Beta Kappa members will have pink-and-blue ribbons on their gowns. The summa cum laude graduates have their names printed in the program. Seize the opportunity!

5. Help stop the Little League arms race. Kids’ sports are becoming ridiculously structured and competitive. What happened to playing baseball because it’s fun? We are systematically creating races out of things that ought to be a journey. We know that success isn’t about simply running faster than everyone else in some predetermined direction. Yet the message we are sending from birth is that if you don’t make the traveling soccer team or get into the “right” school, then you will somehow finish life with fewer points than everyone else. That’s not right. You’ll never read the following obituary: “Bob Smith died yesterday at the age of 74. He finished life in 186th place.”

6. Read obituaries. They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives.

7. Your parents don’t want what is best for you. They want what is good for you, which isn’t always the same thing. There is a natural instinct to protect our children from risk and discomfort, and therefore to urge safe choices. Theodore Roosevelt—soldier, explorer, president—once remarked, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Great quote, but I am willing to bet that Teddy’s mother wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer.

8. Don’t model your life after a circus animal. Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better. You will be a friend, a parent, a coach, an employee—and so on. But only in your job will you be explicitly evaluated and rewarded for your performance. Don’t let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts. If you leave a work task undone in order to meet a friend for dinner, then you are “shirking” your work. But it’s also true that if you cancel dinner to finish your work, then you are shirking your friendship. That’s just not how we usually think of it.

9. It’s all borrowed time. You shouldn’t take anything for granted, not even tomorrow. I offer you the “hit by a bus” rule. Would I regret spending my life this way if I were to get hit by a bus next week or next year? And the important corollary: Does this path lead to a life I will be happy with and proud of in 10 or 20 years if I don’t get hit by a bus.

10. Don’t try to be great. Being great involves luck and other circumstances beyond your control. The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn’t, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.

Good luck and congratulations.

Here is the link if you prefer to read the full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304811304577366332400453796.html?fb_ref=wsj_share_FB&fb_source=timeline

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