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It's OK Not To Have All The Answers When You Graduate

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Spring. The days are getting longer and the spring flowers are already peeking through. But if you recently graduated from college or university, you might be oblivious to the beautiful weather as that nagging question "What am I going to do now?" starts ringing through your head.

graduate wonder
(Photo: Peopleimages via Getty Images)

This dreaded question can be overwhelming -- especially if the answer is "I have no idea." For a lot of students, college or university can provide a steady routine where the path is more or less laid out. You know what's coming tomorrow, and next year. Until graduation that is. Relax. Stop and smell the flowers. It's OK, and you're not alone. We don't all have the answers at graduation.

In fact, it goes hand in hand with the more than 40 per cent of young people who don't feel that they are prepared for the working world.

I remember graduation vividly. I felt like a cork bobbing in the ocean. All of the familiar things I had come to know were quickly vanishing from sight: my tight-knit group of friends, the house I rented with my roomies, the nook in the library I claimed as my own, the familiar annual class selection and schedule frenzy, the feeling that at any moment I could just walk around the corner to find a friend. I was leaving all of that behind for the next chapter, and that chapter started with moving back in with my parents (gasp!) with no job (gasp!).

For some, the path after graduation is clear: grad school, a gap year to travel or a job already lined up make for easy answers.

Chances are your day-to-day is changing drastically and may even include a move back home.

But for all the young people who are about to graduate and don't know what is coming next, here are some suggestions as you get started on the next chapter.

Keep a routine

When you feel anxious or stressed, it can be hard to resist the urge to just pull your covers up and go back to bed. While you're figuring out your next steps, make sure you continue to balance time for both you, and the job or career search. Stay active and on top of the news and current events in your field; make plans with friends and family; start or continue with a fitness regime. Job hunting can be strenuous so keeping active physically, socially and emotionally is key.

Don't drop the calculator just yet

Chances are your day-to-day is changing drastically and may even include a move back home to save some money. This is a good time to sit down and create a budget that captures all of your expenses -- including some news ones that come with life post-graduation.

Remember to factor in student loans and other new expenses like building a workplace wardrobe, transit to work and helping your parents with household expenses. It's also important to treat yourself, so don't forget to include entertainment as a line item for things like nights out with friends.

Also, drink lots of coffee (or tea) with like-minded professionals. That's code for networking! Seek out mentors who have careers that you admire and take them out for coffee, a walk or a brief meeting. They might not be able to give you a job on the spot, but they might lend you some meaningful advice or put you in touch with someone who can. Always ask for advice and suggestions for another person to add to your networking list.

young networking
(Photo: Tom Merton via Getty Images)

Do your own thing

Create opportunities for yourself that demonstrate your full potential. Start a blog that curates industry thought leadership. Create YouTube videos on a topic that you're passionate about. Write poetry. Working on something that keeps your brain working and stimulated will not only set you apart from your competition, but also help you to develop new and marketable skills.

Keep your eyes open to opportunities

They might come in the least likely place. Maybe the job offer isn't your dream job, but it comes with the opportunity to work with someone that you admire. Or maybe taking a short-term contract that doesn't offer long term security will lead to a valuable new skill or new contact. When you're right out of school, make sure you put your foot in every door that could be open to you.

Be real

Try not to let yourself get down when a friend talks about their amazing job opportunity or when your cousin (who has been working for a while) scores an awesome new condo. It's easy to believe everything we see on social media is real and that your friends are moving on to new and amazing things, but perception isn't always reality. If you put the work in, your time will come, too.

So how did my "next chapter" pan out? I was someone who didn't like the uncertainty very much. Within a few months of leaving, a lot of coffees and networking meetings, I landed a great job at an advertising firm. A few months later, I took the next step, found a great little flat with my best friend and moved out. But if my future self could have met me back then, she would have said "Don't be in such a hurry. Take your time. Enjoy not knowing what the next step is. With ambiguity comes opportunity."

Some of the best experiences in my life have happened when I wasn't so certain of the path ahead. They key is to embrace the ambiguity, keep learning and growing, because something great is always just around the corner.

One last thought -- no matter where you're headed next, don't forget to celebrate this achievement. Graduation is not a given -- you worked hard for this one! Take a moment to reflect on that achievement and all the steps that you took to get here. Congratulations.

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