Taking the next step

The picture-perfect version of graduation. The real thing comes with a big slice of uncertainty. Via parade.condenast.com
Graduation, minus the real-life reality of uncertainty and anxiety.
Via parade.condenast.com

Graduating is a pretty exciting concept. You’ve survived the onslaught of assignments and tests, and as a reward you never have to set foot in the Exam Centre again. This is the time to celebrate, graduating students! You did it!

Since I’m one of you, I know that the reality is not quite that simple. A huge cloud of uncertainty seems to settle in as the school year draws to a close. What comes next after U of T? Should you go to grad school? College? Search for a job? Find an internship? Should you move back home? The questions are endless. And even for those of us who have decided where to go next, there’s still anxiety about whether the choice was a good one and how to end up in a desired career.

Last week, I attended the Next Steps conference, which was designed to help answer these kinds of questions. It began with a keynote address from Gloria Roheim McRae, an alumna who tried out 21 different jobs before landing on her passion as an entrepreneur.

speechNear the beginning of her speech, she asked who was feeling overwhelmed by what was next. At least half of the hands in Con Hall went up. She shared her story and provided advice on how to stand out and make a living doing what you love. I can only speak for myself, but by the end I was feeling a lot less overwhelmed. A linear path to a dream job is not necessary, and in fact may even be less interesting. Your unique experiences are what set you apart from your peers, and may even be key in landing a job.

As the cliche goes, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Roheim McRae can attest to this; only one out of her 21 jobs was landed through a formal application process. But instead of handing out business cards and viewing other people only in terms of what they can do for you, she emphasized the importance of making authentic connections. Get to know people, be genuinely interested in what they have to say, and opportunities will come from there.

A conference was a perfect setting for that kind of conversation. It was easy to chat with people while eating cookies or waiting for events to start, and everyone there had a lot in common by virtue of being in the same life stage.

signI also attended some afternoon sessions on education after undergrad and staying positive and finding balance as you make the transition. Both were great opportunities to hear the stories of alumni and staff, reflect on where I’m going, and set goals for moving forward.

One thing I wish is that I’d attended this conference in my third year. It would have been useful to more thoroughly explore my options well before any actual choices had to be made. For any second years out there, keep an eye out for this event next year!

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