By Cathy Hodson
Quite an achievement, to graduate from college. Once upon a time those who graduated from college were in a distinct minority. In post-World War II, that began to change with the advent of the GI Bill, which allowed returning veterans to go to college as a benefit for having served in the military. Now, in 2012, there will be nearly 1.8 million new college graduates.
There will be graduates in every possible profession. Here’s a question to ponder, however: Will you end up having a career in the area you have received a degree for, and staying in that career for the rest of your life? For many of you, probably, but not necessarily.
When I graduated with a degree in teaching more than 25 years ago, the Internet did not exist commercially. We were still using typewriters. Cell phones did not exist. Calculators had been in commercial use for less than 10 years. We were still playing albums, and cassette tapes filled with, yes, disco and the advent of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Madonna’s “Borderline.” There is no way I could have foreseen that I would not only not be solely a teacher at this point in my career (I do use my teaching skills to train people at work), but there is also no way I could have foreseen that I would leave teaching to work in publishing, which would lead me to begin working in the new frontier of the “information highway.”
My older brother went to college to become a lawyer. He went through law school and became a practicing attorney for the state’s attorney’s office in our county. But a lifelong love of the chase led him to go out with some of his police friends on their beats, and shortly thereafter, he switched careers from law to police work – less than five short years out of law school. He worked as a trooper, patrolling the highways, and then worked his way up to narcotics and finally, 24 years later, he investigates white collar crime and Medicaid fraud. As an American Civilization history major in college, he would not have been able to anticipate such a career path as the one he has found himself on, and one for which he has exhibited an unfailing passion.
I’m sure you will run into other stories such as the ones I’ve told you. These kinds of career jumps cannot happen if you are not flexible or open to change. The journey of life is nothing if not filled with twists and turns. There will be things that happen that you would never have seen coming, and would have laughed at if someone had said you would be doing that in five years.
That doesn’t mean to be highly suggestible. Just because you overhear someone mention something in the hallway doesn’t mean you should dig up your roots and go in an entirely different direction. Changing your profession shouldn’t be something you entertain lightly. But if you have the chance to go in a new direction and it is something that excites you and that you know you will be good at, go for it. Follow your heart. Work at something you are impassioned about, and can make a difference in. We all have to work – it might as well be for something you care deeply about.
One of the many things I love about being a web editor is that you can work in any profession and for any company: healthcare, legislation, news, sports, finance, entertainment, nonprofits, Fortune 500 companies. Web editors are versatile, can juggle a lot of projects, oversee staff, manage logistics, and learn amazing amounts of information about things you would never guess could be compelling or even interesting unless you are thrust in the middle of it.
The world keeps changing, and seems to spin faster every year. This thrills some, horrifies others. Whatever you decide to do with your life and your career, be open to change. Your interests will grow as you learn more. You will discover new talents you didn’t know you had. For some this will speed the rate of ascension within the company you work for. For others, this will mean changing professions or uncovering new talents and frontiers that you cannot help but explore.
Although it is an overused graduation speech axiom, you really are at the beginning of your life, and certainly your career. You are stepping out into the world with your entire life’s worth of education, mentoring, training and enthusiasm contained within you. It is an exciting time, and one can only guess at where you will be in 10, 20 or 30 years from now. Be flexible, be open, follow your heart, give back, and help others when you can. Be true to yourself and don’t ignore your self-preservation instincts. They are there for a reason. You are on the road to making a difference. Welcome to life after college!