How To Become A Grown Up: Part 1

becoming adult

Dear Sarah Von,

I’m currently in my third year of undergrad and I feel completely unnerved. I’m studying Communication Studies and am second guessing myself. My passions and interests are so varied (education, public advocacy, public health) that I’m feeling pulled in so many directions. Will my degree be enough to land me a job after graduation? Can I survive working at a non-profit that pays approx. $2? How do I find the resources to network and find jobs? Do I have the courage to move? How long should I wait for grad school? What do I want to study in grad school? How do I get the good paying job that fulfills my pay-it-forward needs? Will I ever have the time/money/opportunity/courage to travel/move abroad? How do I get where I really want to go? What do I really want?Oh, friend. This? This is a million dollar question.

Short Answer: you won’t wake up one day with all of the answers. Nobody knows 100% what they’re doing. Even if it seems like they do, they don’t. And that’s okay.

Long Answer

Your degree does not determine your life or your job

Unless you go to a technical college for hair dressing or welding or radiology, your bachelor’s degree is mostly a piece of paper that proves you
a) can write papers and make supporting arguments
b) are responsible enough to start and finish four years of educationI know some very successful people who didn’t finish their bachelor’s degree. I know a million people who are not working in the fields they went to school for. Really, I know approximately 10 people whose jobs are vaguely related to their bachelor’s degrees. My cousin has a degree in philosophy and works at a bank. One of my best friends has a degree in political science and works in marketing. Another friend has an MA in theater and does real estate evaluations. Working in the field you went to school in is practically the exception rather than the rule!

More than your degree, your work experience, personality, connections and work ethic will help you find a job. If you’ve got a few good internships, knowledge of the appropriate software, a friendly demeanor and a buddy in the company, it probably won’t matter if your degree is in underwater basket weaving – you’ll be in.

You will find a job you like. Eventually.
It would be totally, totally awesome if you landed a job making $37,000 a year doing PR for the Red Cross right out of college.

This probably won’t happen.

But you can make it more significantly more likely! See if your school can hook you up with a pertinent internship. If they can’t, take a little initiative. I got my first job out of school by literally typing the word ‘creative’ into and calling every company listed and asking if they had internships. Find out what software people in your field use and learn it on your own. Find pertinent volunteer opportunities. Call people who have the type of job you want and see if you can job-shadow them or do an informational interview.
Even if you do all of these things you might end of taking an unpaid internship in your field and waiting tables. You might become a personal assistant for someone in your field. You might land your dream job and discover that it’s totally not your bag.

Finding a career that you really love and working your way up that ladder is a slow process. I interned and worked in PR/marketing/event planning/journalism for several (misguided) years before I succumbed to my genetic destiny of teaching. Now I have a job that I lovelovelove; it has taken me four different teaching jobs to get here.

I think it’s important to realize that no job is a total waste of your time, especially if it’s in the field that you know you want to work in. You can always learn new skills, network and volunteer to be on committees.

If you manage it wisely, you need a lot less money than you think you do
If you want to work at a non-profit or teach at a charter school or travel the world, you’ll need to be careful with your money. But here’s the thing about money: if you’re careful, you probably need less than you think you do.
I earn approximately $2 and have pretty significant school debt, but I still manage to live in a nice neighborhood, in a one bedroom + office apartment on my own. I own my car, I travel, I wear (what I shamelessly consider to be) cute clothes and I pay off my credit card every month. I can do all of these things because I make sacrifices elsewhere. Nearly everything I own is second hand; I rarely eat or drink out; my apartment is super cute but also the size of a breadbox and I earn extra money by tutoring and writing on the side.I find it’s a lot easier to make these sacrifices when I’m doing it for a really tangible reason. I can’t buy $200 boots because I’m saving up for a world ticket. $200 is probably two weeks of travel in India. When I think about it in those terms, it’s a lot easier to stomach. I’m sure you can do the same thing! If you’re passionate about your job/saving for grad school/buying a house you’ll be amazed what you’re capable of once you’re committed to that goal!

Part 2 – graduate school, courage and getting what you want!

P.S. If  you’re having a quarter life crisis and need a bit of help, I made something just for you.

photo by Robertina Jeno // cc

Welcome to Yes & Yes!

Want to spend your time, money, and energy on purpose? I'll show you how.

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  1. Esti

    I'm one of the lucky few who has always seemed to know exactly what I wanted to do with my life (be an english professor), but even with that part pinned down, doing the adult thing is hard and scary. I made sure I exposed myself to other options, decided it was what I really did want, got into grad school, got a part time job… And I'm still worried about money and where I'll end up next and a million other things. The only good advice I know is to just remember that virtually everyone is, was, or will be just as stressed as you are, but that it really is temporary. It's also worth considering that there's no automatic I'm-an-adult-now stopping place in life, and that's really one of the most exciting things about it.

  2. Gene

    If you go as far as you can see, you'll always be able to see what's next. Goals are necessary, but life is so full of wonderful surprises that it's important to let the universe show you some more options. Also, give yourself a great big pat on the back for what you've accomplished; you're off to such a fantastic start. As a matter of fact write your accomplishments down. You'll be able to pull them out at a later date and see all of the kick ass things you've totally rocked already. Whatever it is that comes up, you'll definitely rise to the occasion.

    Also, be as kind to yourself as you would your sweetest friend.

  3. superalzy

    Your first job is not necessarily your career. Sometimes you have to do what you can in the meantime to save money, pay down loans, afford rent, etc…while you desperately look for other jobs.

    Follow your passion and the rest will come in time. I'm hanging on to that sentiment. I finished grad school last May (got an MFA in creative writing) and took a job I a.b.s.o.l.u.t.e.l.y hate because in this economy I'm lucky to have a job at all to pay back my loans. I write on the side, keep my blog (which makes no money, but makes a good portfolio!) and cut back my spending enormously (which is a great lesson for anyone!). Keep plugging away and don't lose sight of what you want (even if it changes daily!). You will get where you want or need to be in time. Good luck!

  4. Johanna

    These are great thoughts, and I can't wait to read this post later today when I get home!


  5. Chrissy

    my oldest works for a non profit… and oh the micro managing… both of my kids are learning the politics of working and they are not liking it… stick to your guns… the pay may stink .. my daughter did internship at WHO and even then it was hard there as well… as my husband told me years ago and he told them: 'college helps u discover yourself, it does not guarantee a job…" he loved the experience college gave him.. My girls loved it too.. and they learned alot about themselves as well as others….

  6. Erin

    Oh, Sarah Von you are so smart. I agree that no experience is worthless, because it will either help you refine what you love to do or figure out that what you love to do is something totally different.

    And you're absolutely right about college. Even the best and brightest college grad has to start somewhere, and it usually won't be at MIT teaching astrophysics right off the bat. It's almost a guarantee that you'll have to take a job that you're way too smart for—even one in your field that you know you could do in your sleep. But, once you're in the door, windows will open.

  7. Maggie

    Long time lurker posting for the first time here…

    First of all I just want to repeat what Sarah said about living cheaply: it's totally possible! I'm a graduate student (talk about being broke) yet I still manage to travel internationally regularly – last year I went to 6 different countries. My friends sometimes express surprise that I can do this, but it comes down to the other things I *don't* buy: I'm not at Starbucks every day getting coffee, and I'm much more likely to watch an old DVD at home than to head out to the latest blockbuster every weekend.

    Re: grad school – I'm a PhD student in a research field and I love it, but I *highly* recommend taking some time off after your bachelor's degree and working before you start grad school. I did AmeriCorps for a year, teaching ESL, and it was an amazing experience – but it also showed me that that wasn't the exact direction I wanted my life to take, and that that was ok! As others have said, it's a process, not a one-time decision what to do with your life. Best wishes!

  8. Sarah

    I know how this person feels! As I start my last semester of college I must ask myself those questions 10 times a day. I have no clue what I want to do but there's comfort in knowing no one really does. My advice: don't worry or over think it. Enjoy what little college life you have left because there's nothing else like it!

  9. Anonymous

    As a person who is investing in going to grad school later rather than right out of undergrad (and am so glad I did!!) the only real word of advice is to take the GRE when you finish college or are close to it. The results are good for five years and it's a lot less stressful than trying to remember it all later!! Good luck and have fun – and remember that live is a constantly evolving journey 🙂

  10. Hammy

    Eugh, sounds a bit like picking university courses, aka a total nightmare.
    Maybe you could try overseas volunteering? You might be able to teach for a while? It'd give you some experience to put on your cv, and you'd have the opportunity to live in another country!

  11. Ashe Mischief

    "I can do all of these things because I make sacrifices elsewhere"

    This? Definitely a big part of being a grown up, and probably the hardest part about it. Because, I feel, we're often raised to want it ALL-to eat out, have $200 shoes, to travel. But few of us CAN have it all, especially right away. Being a grown up is making that sacrifice of what's the better immediate need.

  12. colleen e

    the person who wrote this question might as well be my soul-sibling. i am in my second year as an undergrad and i ask myself these questions (+a million more) multiple times a day. some days i get so stressed out i want to cry, and i have seriously contemplated dropping out of school for fear of not having enough money/acquiring too much debt to ever be comfortable. im a poli sci/africana studies/philosophy major- my dad still has the "what in the world will you do with that" look on his face whenever i bring it up.

    but thats not going to happen. priority number one during these four years is just to make it. i have a pretty general idea of what i want to go after graduation, but really that could change or fall through. but im positive that after undergrad is over, ill always have the option to move back in at home, or crash with a friend, while i get on my feet. the point is, whats going to happen two years from now isnt something i need to be worrying myself by thinking about every day.

    im a big fan of lists. one of my most important lists is the budget. even if youre not a big spender, or even if you dont have a job, its nice to keep track of where you are financially, at least in general. mine records how much in loans i have taken out so far (its daunting, but nice to know) at the top, then i separate it with whats happening now. how much i pay in rent, cable, electric, groceries, whathaveyou. i take a small (like $5 each small) amount from each paycheck and to put aside for traveling in the future, and also a separate 'just in case fund.' especially when i work in the summer (and get much happier paychecks) and am able to contribute more to these funds, youll see them really increase. i think whats especially hard about being a student is the insecurity of not having a 'just in case fund.' even if its small, youll be surprised what kind of impact it can have.

    i also made a general list of what i want to do over the course of the next few years. where there are gaps, i fill them in with the possibility of interning or a part time job. during semesters i dont have a terrible course load, i go out and look for new clubs to get involved with. any opportunity to meet people is going to help in the long run, i like to think someone has to know someone who can help me out.

    the main lesson i hope i got across- its so easy to overwhelm yourself with all these questions. i struggle with it daily. but if you take each issue and break it down into possible outcomes, then possible solutions to each outcome, then small steps to attain each solution.. everything becomes much more clear. college is short, dont forget to enjoy yourself.

    and study a little.

  13. xo, Alexi

    ohhhh my goodness, thanks for the advice and for bringing this up in general. i'm an undergrad junior, too, and i'm so unsure of my major, and it doesn't help that i don't want to go to graduate school, since i think i'll have such a hard time finding a job i love.

  14. Hip Hip Gin Gin

    Agree with everything Sarah said, we're all stumbling around and no one, no matter what they tell you, has it all figured out.

    Society wants to make you believe that there is one "right" path to successful adulthood and you'd better figure it out and then follow it. The truth? I know many people who did it all the "right" way and are miserable. I know many people who did it all the "wrong" way and are thrilled. And vice versa, and anywhere in between.

    Worry less, enjoy today more, stumble around the best you can and you will figure out your path.

  15. penn

    I love the post. I, too, am succumbing to my destiny of becoming a teacher (I just love it). Sometimes, I get frustrated that I'm not going down the path quicker. It helps to remember that all of this is a marathon and not a sprint. Take time, explore options, and don't be afraid to open the wrong door. Make sure that you always have a good attitude and that you seek to learn something from every job. That way, at the worst, you found out that the door you opened isn't the one for you. Then, you can go open new doors.

    I failed out of a PhD program (okay, "mastered out"). This was a crushing blow, and it still gets to me at my low moments. But it helped me realize that research is really not my thing. I can love science without being a scientist. Plus, being there helped me learn how much I love teaching. By the time I was ready to leave, I decided to spend one more year teaching, finishing up courses, and getting that MS. Then, I went and took some internships and seasonal work in outdoor ed just for a break from school and a way to hone some teaching skills. Now, I'm working toward that license!

    See the process for what it is: a process. It's hard to evaluate where you are when you're in the middle of it. Just keep pushing forward and be open to possibilities.

  16. Corinne

    Brilliant, Sarah. You've listed a lot of things that took me a long time and a lot of experience to figure out.
    There's a balance between knowing what you want and being open to what life drops in your lap. Take some chances, do a few things that scare the pants off of you (um, not in a jumping-off-a-bridge way, obviously), and you learn more about yourself and the path your life *can* take. Note that the "can" is important — your life could go in many directions and not one of them is the exactly right one.

  17. nifer

    Sarah, you always have the best words of wisdom to impart! You are a true sage.

  18. Luinae

    You have incredibly good, solid advice- I want to be a dancer. I know it doesn't pay well, but I love dancing!


    Really useful post:
    I'm about to graduate (i study architecture, i am really tired of the 'studying process' and i feel totaly lost about the future….i don't know if i would like to practice architecture, so probably an internship will help to make up my mind..
    thanks for the advice!! 🙂

  20. Amy Lauren

    Wow, if the title didn't suck me in, the content sure did! Sounds like me and this person have a LOT in common – I am in my third year of undergrad AND am also studying communications! (which I just recently – like 2 days ago – decided to do for sure, because i'd like to finish school in a reasonable amount of time instead of trying everything before decided, like I've been doing thus far!) ANYWAY, this was VERY helpful! All that really counts is that you can get the 4 year degree, so you might as well take classes that you find interesting! 🙂 can't wait to read tomorrow's post!

  21. Miss Peregrin

    Oh my god, this post makes me feel a million times better about where I'm at right now. Thanks Sarah Von, you always know what to do!

  22. Betsy

    Thank you for writing this! I've been a bit worried about what I'm going to do after I'm done with undergrad, and this makes me feel a million times better. I've told myself a lot of the points you make here, but it's really comforting hearing them from someone else.

  23. Lymie

    I'm printing this off and reading it everyday. That's the piece of encouragement I needed.

  24. Aury

    I'm making a notebook in evernote to save all of my favourite posts from yes and yes. Why? Cos you are a well of wonderful advice!

  25. Shannon Short

    My advice: Listen to Sarah. She knows what she's talking about. And be honest with yourself, completely honest with yourself. In every aspect of your life. Then go for it. Go for completely living in that truth that is you and your beautiful life. Have fun and be free. The truth will do this for you!

  26. Carla Cram

    This is nearly 7 years later but in case anyone reads this… I studied communications and was offered two jobs straight out of my studies. I interned and worked all the way through so I had lots of options. I took the one with more $$$ instead of the one I loved. BIG MISTAKE. Follow your heart, the money will come…. eventually. And you don’t need all the things you think you need.

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