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  • Writer's pictureBayLeigh Routt

Navigating the "Real World"

When we finish undergrad, we often fell a sense of relief combined with excitement and eagerness to begin our next steps into the "real world." Nerves bubble up as we ponder the unknown. Sooner or later, however, many of us are hit with a tough reality check that the world we've stepped into isn't as bright as we hoped. When we're kids, we think the world is as limitless as our dreams. In college, we're full to the brim with anticipation to start making those dreams a reality.

Once we graduate, though, we're often reminded how difficult it can be fulfilling our dreams. Although it's common to be nervous when we enter the workforce, we're longing to prove ourselves so we dive head first into whatever comes our way. Reality begins to sink in over time, and it can become quite debilitating facing reality. As kids, we're told anything is possible. We're told to dream big and work hard because we can do anything we set our minds to if we're determined. While I believe that to be true to a certain extent, I also find that sentiment to be frustrating as hell.

Now you might be thinking that I'm being a bit pessimistic about it, but I feel like the sentiment dilutes reality. Of course we can achieve amazing things when we're determined and work hard. Ignoring how there are so many hurdles in the way is harmful, and that's what has been the most difficult part for me over the last five years since I finished undergrad. As a kid, I never had a single clue what I wanted to be when I grew up; I eventually set on the idea of becoming a vet because I liked small animals and I was tired of people asking so I knew they'd believe me I said I wanted to be a vet.

By the time I entered high school, I let go of that "dream" and accepted that I didn't know. There were other career options that peaked my interest for short periods during high school, but nothing really ever stuck. For undergrad, I attended a small liberal arts school in Kentucky with a student population of roughly 900. College fueled my desire for learning and exposed me to so many courses, topics, and ideas. It challenged me in incredible ways as a student and as a person. I had some amazing professors and peers who helped grow. I double majored with a minor, I interned my senior year with a local radio station, I volunteered regularly throughout my four years in college, I held multiple leadership positions on-campus, and I also became a manager of our student center.

Despite all of that, I didn't have a clear path in mind for a career. I enjoyed my studies immensely and I don't regret my two majors or my minor, even though I haven't directly used them in the last five years. I'm grateful for my opportunity to go to college at an amazing school, but sometimes I wonder if I would've ended up in the same sea of doubt, worry, and depression if I had saved time and money by not going to college. Over the last five years, I've battled depression and terrible anxiety as I try to come to terms that finding peace and creativity in a career isn't as simple as I grew up thinking.

As I've strengthened my LinkedIn profile and presence on the app, I've quickly realized that I'm not the only one who feels lost. Early career years are incredibly difficult for so many of us. We doubt ourselves and become our biggest critics; we think we're not good enough for the jobs we're apply for or the positions we have right now. Imposter syndrome, loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud, plagues our thoughts and tears down our confidence. Having hard days or weeks is normal, but how can we overcome this to recognize our worth and build our confidence?

  • Remember that your worth isn't solely based on your career. You are more than your job. Rejuvenate old hobbies and explore new interests to build your happiness or confidence. This will help you find happiness in things outside of your job and look forward to doing things before or after work.

  • Reach out for help. Whether it's with your applications, or with your mental health, reach out to someone you trust for help. They'll help you build your confidence, portfolio, etc.

  • Remind yourself that you are not alone. Other people feel lost, confused, and worried about finding a fulfilling career. Reach out to your friends or family you trust; they may reveal that they have similar feelings and offer advice.

  • Be patient with yourself. As much as you want to reach your goals, it doesn't happen over night. Keep working hard, but be patient.

  • Don't compare yourself to others. There are people in their 20s who run their own businesses. There are people in their 20s who own a home and are having babies. There are people in their 30s just getting started in their career. There are people in their 40s going back to school. There are people in their 50s retiring. We're all on different paths. We have unique paths, and it's important to recognize that.

  • Don't fool yourself: you're better at your job, craft, sport—or whatever—than you give yourself credit for. Doubt, imposter syndrome, or mental illness might be influencing how you determine your success.

The moral of this longer than intended blog post is: be easier on yourself. Be kinder to yourself. Don't let OTHER people impact your idea of where you think you should be in life right now. None of us know what we're doing or where we're headed. There are more people who don't know what they want to be when they grow up than you think. We're all just rolling with it and doing our best. Take care of yourself.


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