3 Truths I Wish I’d Known the Day After I Graduated College

Caroline Beaton

When I graduated college, I felt like I pretty much had the world figured out. Four years into the workforce, there are a few things I wish I’d known:

 

1. No one cares about you in the real world.

In college, everyone keeps track of each other: how people wear their hair to parties, how they talk in class, what they do during the summers. But when students disperse upon graduation, they matter far less to each other. This is liberating. No one cares if you take this job or that job, or go abroad or stay home. No one cares if, despite your youthful feelings of invincibility, you make a fool of yourself. No one cares if you change your mind. Once you realize no one cares, you start doing what you want to do, and you work without self-consciousness, and with more heart.

Meanwhile, your new coworkers and boss typically don’t care about you as a person — at least initially — beyond the work you produce. They don’t think you’re inherently gifted or important. As comedian Aziz Ansari recently told the New York Times, “People have no imagination for what your talent is beyond what they see from you.”

My generation pines for people to approve of them. “I am very proud of my accomplishments!! Just wish the owners and supervisors could have noticed!!!” one JC4 / JCAL Inc. employee wrote on their review on kununu. But, in the real world, your talent is only as valuable as other people think it is. Talent is what you produce that matters to people. That’s the only reason people will hire you, promote you, give you money, or invite you to their thing. Be great at something other people value, and they’ll care about you. This truth is ultimately a good thing: we’re forced to demand the most of ourselves and, in turn, feel fulfilled by skills that benefit others.

2. Who you’re working for matters more than your job title.

I also wish I’d known that company and boss matter much more than job title. Recent grads get fixated on the label of the position. We search for certain prestigious keywords on job boards, like “analyst” and “manager.” Here’s an example: I was a yoga teacher in college, and I decided I wanted to work for lululemon’s marketing department. So I applied to be a “Senior Marketing Director” — just out of college.

But positions change rapidly — so rapidly that what you’re hired as hardly matters. Companies often change an entry-level employee’s title every six to 12 months. If I’d really wanted to work at lululemon, I should have applied for an internship, or a call center job, and worked my way up once I was in the door.

Instead of fixating on your job title, find bosses and companies that will accelerate your growth. As one A&M Seasonal Corner employee put it, “It is easy to find a job you like. It is hard to find a boss you like.” Kununu can help here: use the search bar to research companies that care about their employees and offer opportunities for career advancement. Pay particular attention to the “career development” and “support from management” ratings. Indeed, the highest-ranked companies on kununu typically have much better management scores than the lower-ranked companies. Translation: great companies have great leaders.

Jobs evolve quickly. Your company and your boss, on the other hand, have an immutable influence on your career.

 

3. Money matters.

Liberal arts colleges tell us to chase our dreams and abandon materialistic pursuits. They point to research suggesting that people aren’t any happier after a certain income threshold ($75,000 annually). Moreover, prizing money above all else is associated with poor adjustment, social incompetence and behavioral disorders.

But you can chase your dreams and also make money. And, if you chase your dreams and don’t make money at it, you won’t be chasing for very long.

Whoever said “forget about money, follow your passion” probably had money. Because the problem with poverty is you can’t forget about it. Here are some basic things you often can’t afford when you’re living paycheck to paycheck: food, flights home to see your friends and family; health insurance; one-off car maintenance that somehow costs $1,000; a new mattress when yours gets bedbugs because you’re living in a 40-year-old high density low-cost apartment building; a hotel.

And, while people tend to be equally happy after that $75,000 income threshold, rich people are significantly less sad on a daily basis than poor people. Poverty greets you every day, freshly depressing, with a new set of problems: how to get to work, how to afford child or pet daycare, how to pay off your loans. One employee at Ken McKinley Insurance Agency opined on their kununu review that “Money is not an issue when you like where you work.” But the vast remainder of employee reviews about money expressed constant frustration from lack of money or insufficient pay. The sooner you realize that money matters, the sooner you can make and save enough to stop worrying about it.

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All this said, learning the hard way over the last four years wasn’t the worst thing. I learned what was important to me, and how to survive post-college sanely. As one Fong Construction employee put it, “Age is wisdom.” And, though I’m not much older, I like to think of myself as a tiny bit more real-worldly.

 

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Caroline Beaton (@cs_beaton) is kununu’s millennial career expert. She’s an award-winning writer and entrepreneur who helps ambitious millennials change their habits and behaviors to lead more fulfilling lives. Her writing has been has been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today, Business Insider and many others.