3 things I wish I’d been told in college

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This week was the last week of classes for me and my students. They are off on field placement now for the next six weeks, then they graduate. For me, it’s the end of the school year, and it means seeing off a group of students that I’ve been with for the past two years.

Back in 2008, when this group started, they were new, green, and wide-eyed. Some were just out of high school and trying to navigate the new terrain of college life. Others were on their second pass of college, having tried other programs before landing on the one that was the best fit. Still others were more like me – having worked for a number of years in various fields, now taking a chance and changing paths midstream.

For all of them, it was a bit scary and new. There was so much to learn, so far to go. So many sleepless nights ahead of them. I know. I took the program. You don’t sleep much.

Flash forward, present day. They’ve spent two years learning, refining, and working really, really hard. The achievement is significant…they are ready now, to be web developers, designers, writers, video makers, and project managers. Some will specialize and others will take it all, mould it to the best fit for them and go forward. Some will go to work for companies and excel. Others will turn their passion into their own business and succeed.

I wanted to write this post for my class to share with them a couple of things that I may not have articulated well enough in person. They are things I wish I’d been told when I graduated college and wasn’t.

If you are my student, and you read this and get something out of it, then great. If not, no worries, I appreciate you taking the time to read it. If you’re not my student, and you get something out of it too, then fantastic.

The learning doesn’t stop here. It begins.

Yep – you’ve just gone through two years of learning learning learning, and yep, it’s finally over. But actually, it’s not. Not even a little bit. This is where it starts.

I went to college twice and each time I graduated I walked out the door thinking I knew everything I needed to know. But boy, what a harsh realization it was when I discovered that, in fact, I didn’t know everything.

You don’t need to worry about this, though. You have come SO FAR. You DO know a lot! But what will make the difference between success and failure in your first few jobs (and the rest of them, for that matter), is knowing that you don’t know everything, and that it’s okay to not have all the answers.

What is most important is your willingness to keep learning, keep searching for the answers, and not being afraid to keep asking questions. As long as you are still learning, you’re still moving forward.

80% of the game is just showing up

OK, so you’ve got all these new skills, you’re ready to go out there and take on the world. But the phone is not ringing. The offers are not piling up like you thought they’d be. Damn. So, what now, then? Get a job in retail to pay the rent, consider going back and taking advertising next year? Well, ultimately, that decision is up to you.

But if you want that phone to start ringing, you HAVE to get out there and start meeting people. Sending out resumés is not going to get you a job. Getting a solid presence online, and getting out there and meeting people (virtually or in person) will.

So, seek out people who are doing the things you want to be doing. Start conversations. Find events to go to. Things like Third Tuesday meetups and GenYOttawa and Podcasters Across Borders (if you live in Ottawa, but there are probably similar events in your town if you don’t). Get out there and go to them. Meet people.

Not sure where to start? Read this from Chris Brogan. Shy (like me)? Then read this one from me. Then go do it. Just show up, and have a fantastic attitude. Be confident with what you have to offer the world. The rest will begin to fall into place.

You’re in charge of your career, not your boss

I worked for many years at jobs where I felt uninspired, under-challenged, and over-stressed. I did it because I thought I had to. Then one day I realized that while it’s all fine and well to be responsible and have a job that pays the bills, there’s more to it than that. That maybe, just maybe, if I spent some time figuring out what my goals were, I’d be able to eventually find the kind of job where I could do what I love AND pay the bills.

So, yes, get a job that pays the bills. But if it’s not exactly what you want to be doing, don’t settle. In the off-hours, spend time on defining and revisiting your goals. Come up with an action plan on how you’re going to achieve them. Then put that plan into action. Work really really REALLY hard at it. You will get there.

Respect your bosses, for sure. You can learn a lot from them. But remember, you’re the only one who can make the decision about where you want to go in life. You have ultimate control, at all times.

Well that’s it. I wish I’d been told these things in college. It may have saved me some time and some grief. But, at the same time, I had to walk my own path, just as you have to walk yours.

I wish you all oodles and oodles of success beyond your wildest dreams.

Welcome to the whole world.

This article was written by Susan Murphy

Susan is a partner at Jester Creative Inc., a video and new media production company based in Ottawa. She is professor of Video Production and Web Media at Algonquin College. Susan is heavily involved in her community, as member of the creative team of 12for12k.org, a social media based fundraising project. She’s also on the Board of Directors of SAW Video Coop, an independent video and media arts organization that promotes the amazing work of Ottawa’s media artists.
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