What I Learned by Taking a Different Route After College

"I don't know what career I want" is something many postgrad students say; read what this recent graduate learned from it.

While some people can jump right into a career after college, not all of us are ready to take that plunge. But it’s not always because we don’t want to.

In my case, it wasn’t because I wanted to put off the “real” world. I was ready for the world — I wanted to start my career. I was looking forward to jumping into my calling, and I was anxious to get going on that 9-to-5 hustle.

The problem was that I didn’t know exactly which career path was right for me. And even though I realized that your first job isn’t your “forever job,” I was struggling to figure out where to even start after I graduated. 

So after finishing my summer job, I moved back home. And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel like I was failing in some small way. I did well in school, so I was supposed to be fine — no, I was supposed to be succeeding. Not living in my parents’ basement.

While the occasional freelance job gave me some buffer, it wasn’t enough to fill my time (or my wallet). So when a friend said she’d heard of a family who needed a nanny, I jumped on it. I told myself it was the perfect opportunity to make some money while I dove even deeper into my job search. I’ll just do it for a month or two, I thought, to buy some time. 

Well, two months turned to three, which turned into four, and on and on until I was waking up at 6 a.m. for the eighth month in a row to watch two little girls.

Even though I changed many more diapers than I had planned to, I’d also gone down a road that allowed me to more fully explore what I wanted. Here’s what I learned from taking an unconventional path after graduation.

Everyone’s transition looks a little different.

I struggle with comparison. I can’t seem to get enough of it, which is unfortunate because comparison is the thief of joy. I was never more miserable than when I would view my nannying job as below the level of my other friends’ “real” jobs.

What I only came to see afterward was that just because my transition time took longer than others didn’t mean it was wrong. It’s not as if I turned down the wrong path after college — I just took a different one. And in the end, I gained more than I would have had I jumped into a job that didn’t line up with what I wanted or where I was in life.

Take the time that you need.

Looking back, I am so grateful that I took the time I needed to discern what was next for me (and that I had a strong support system of people who assured me there was nothing wrong with taking that time). If I had rushed it, I’m not sure I would be where I am now, working a full-time job at an organization I truly love.

You are the person who knows yourself best. If you know that you thrive when you throw yourself into situations, your next step should push you to do that. But if you gain more from introspection and time spent reflecting and contemplating, don’t hesitate to take that time. At the end of the day, we need a good balance of both those approaches in our lives, so start with where you’re comfortable, and grow from there.

There is value in each experience.

My days nannying were filled with diaper changes and endless games of “chase” (who needs the gym when you have a 3-year-old to run after?). I heard “no” more times than I can count and spent a fair amount of time getting slime out of clothing. But through the pouting and the temper tantrums, the please-just-eat-one-bite and the no-you-cannot-eat-your-food-on-the-floor, each day was filled with so much life.

Those girls taught me what it means to love another person without reserve. They filled my heart with moments of unexpected and pure joy. In the end, I learned more about myself than I had anticipated. I learned how to put the needs of others above my own. I learned that some days it’s impossible to check everything off your list, and that’s okay. I learned when to let things go rather than stress about another mess.

Leading up to and after graduation, I spent so much time worrying over defining my skills and what kind of job my studies set me up for. I failed to realize that a lot more goes into job discernment than that. The reality was that my degree in writing did not set me up specifically for any one, single job. My personality, passions, and priorities, on the other hand, did lead me directly into the kind of job that is bringing me fulfillment.

It’s easy to get caught up in deciding what job we’re suited for. We run down the list of “requirements” in job postings and if we find we don’t match up with one or more of them, we often don’t feel qualified for the job. But we will rarely find a job for which we already possess each of the skills required. So instead, perhaps we should start focusing on what kind of jobs are suited for us — not what are they looking for, but what are we looking for in a job? 

To do that, we must give ourselves the time to learn about ourselves, about who we are outside of our studies and skills, about what matters most to us.

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