By: Alyssa Kapaona
You did it! You have successfully completed an advanced degree. Well done! But….now what? Here are four things you may want to consider as you navigate that often tricky transition between finishing a graduate program and your life after grad school.
1. Breathe. Yes, do it now. Take a deep breath and simply enjoy the moment. You have put in a lot of long days and nights, and perhaps literal blood, sweat, and tears into your studies. So just take a moment to pause and enjoy some simple things that don’t require all of your brain power. For example, go on a quiet hike. Jump in the ocean. Eat something you’ve been craving and savor every flavorful bite. Binge watch that show you can finally view now that you’re not studying all the time. Take a N A P….The possibilities are endless!
I see a lot of students after they graduate who are so tired and run down, but are still in the mindset of constantly working, thinking, and doing. They feel guilty and unproductive to have moments of pause, moments of silence, moments of nothingness. But they (and I) have learned the hard way that if you don’t take time to recharge, you risk completely exhausting yourself and being useless to not just yourself but also to those around you. Being present is essential to the growth that is happening to you right now. Be grateful for the journey you just went on and take the time needed to give yourself a break! Trust me, it will not be time wasted. You deserve it and your brain and body will thank you for the time you took to replenish yourself.
2. Reflect. You have just finished a life changing experience, whether it feels like it or not. You have met people along the way and have had some new experiences, to say the least. So now is the time to think about that. After you give yourself a break, start to reflect. (Journaling is a great way to document this). Think about what went well during your grad program, and what you would like to improve on in the future. Who were people you met during this time that you admired? Who are people that taught you more about what you don’t want to be like? What were the passions driving you during your studies? How can you keep these passions alive as you transition into your career?
These questions may seem like common sense things, but when one is so busy with studying and meeting the requirements for a graduate program, these thoughts are not given the depth they deserve. Answering some of the prompts above or your own burning questions will help you to become more self aware, focused, and purposeful as you take your nexts steps.
3. Plan. Okay, you’ve had some time to chill a bit and reflect on your past experience. Good work! You needed to go through that self discovery process to get in the right frame of mind to start a new chapter. Now it's time to take what you’ve learned and start making plans. Usually, it’s best to work backwards from your short term goals. Determine what the ideal next step is for you (getting a job, doing an internship, etc.) and go from there.
4. Be patient. True story: when I got my Masters degree in Higher Educational Administration, I packed up and moved to a different state to seek out new experiences and job opportunities. I was all set to go forth, diploma in hand, and start slaying the field of higher education! However, the year was 2008 (aka The Great Recession) and the universe had other plans….Three months later I was working in a coffee shop with an eighteen year old manager.
Over the next year, I applied to dozens of jobs in the field of higher education but due to the recession, all the letters came back the same: “We apologize, but the position you applied for has been discontinued due to funding.” I ended up getting any odd jobs I could that related to the general field of education. I worked as a babysitter, a nanny, a tutor, and in a daycare. Finally, I got a break and worked as a teacher in a small private school. I remained in that role for three years until I moved back to my home state and got a job at a community college. It took me four years, but I was finally back working with the population I had set out to serve.
I’m not going to lie, that time of my life was rough. I felt like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing and that I was also letting a lot of people, including myself, down. Yet in retrospect, I was doing just fine and should have probably enjoyed the moment more. Throughout all of this I learned how you can still end up achieving your goals, even if your path wanders a bit. Ten years later, I am now in a job I love which happens to be a faculty position at the College of Education at a university. But, if I didn’t have those “lost” years prior to the position I have now, I would never have ended up here. Everything I had done in my past had led me to this point.
Life truly is funny and most times our best-laid plans don’t “lay.” But do your best to continue working towards your goals because if you stay focused, if you hustle, and if you put in the work, you will eventually get to where you want to be. It might not follow the exact timeline you envisioned, but that’s okay. Learn from that and know that a little patience goes a long way.
Best wishes to you on wherever your journey takes you and congratulations on your graduation!