Making it in the Real World: Reflections from a Year Post-Grad…

Eleven months ago today, I sat through a somewhat dull speech in a giant auditorium wearing an awkward square black hat, and bid farewell to my four-year excursion through the theater higher education system.  As is customary for such an experience, there was a sense of both relief and uncertainty. What’s next?  Will a degree in the arts actually help me in life?  Does anyone notice that I stole my tassel from another school?

Though my future self did not feel inclined to answer such questions at that time, I am now in a position to do so.  And while my younger self may not benefit from this practice, I find there is something rather fulfilling about knowing that the questions I have in the present can and will be answered in the future.

Since the particulars of my past year are of little consequence to my readers, I’ll forego giving you my personal highlight reel; however, I do want to share a few things which I think are relevant to anyone who’s facing their last month of school before the proverbial breaking of the academic chains and facing an uncertain future.  That’s right – I timed the release of this article so that you still have a month to heed my advice.  You’re welcome.

So what should one expect after graduating with some sort of arts degree?  Of course everyone is different, but I’d say that if you’re a go-getter type, you should expect a pretty adventurous year.  My year took me everywhere from glamorous trips to Disneyworld and Chicago to sleeping on a friends’ couch for two months and having basically no job. I had exciting things happen such as getting an agent and shooting a commercial, but then there were things like having to understudy the majority of the characters in a show and learning all their instruments and vocal parts and then not actually performing at all.  It’s highs and lows, but nothing insurmountable.

So what tips and tricks would I offer to soon-to-be grads as they prepare for the real world?  Here are my thoughts…

  1. Keep the mentality that you’re actually ALWAYS in the “real world”.  School is not an excuse to be lazy or hide in a bubble.  Almost everything I ended up doing this past year can be traced back to something I auditioned for or a connection I had during school.  I continued to work my two school jobs for a few months after grad, then performed two consecutive shows for which I had auditioned during my final semester.
  2. Write down specific names and websites of people and businesses in your profession that you want to be working with, and keep them handy.  That’s actually how I got my agent – fishing in my notes from film class junior year and sending an email basically just saying “hey, one of my professors worked with you, wanna work with me?”
  3. In fact, don’t throw out any of your notes.  I know it seems terrible, but you never know what might be useful (AKA MONOLOGUE EXERCISES).  It just so happens that a Gen Ed class I took my freshmen year is actually relevant to the documentary I’m currently working on, and I might even be interviewing that professor.
  4. Add as many college connections as possible on facebook (but like don’t be too creepy).  There have been countless times where I’ve vetted future work partners by interrogating people on their mutual friends list.  You never know when a connection may come in handy, so keep your options open and do your best not to burn bridges along the way.
  5. Get an alumni ID.  They’re super underrated – no one told me how to get one; you have to go to the library and ask.  And to be fair, I didn’t set foot on campus for about half a year.  But now I’m on campus pretty frequently and check out books and videos from the library all the time.  In fact, I’m actually on campus as I write this. Heh.
  6. To counter this first point – stay far enough away from your college that you don’t keep thinking like a college student and wishing you could escape back into the bubble.  The world has no need for a 22-year-old has-been.
  7. Have a heart-to-heart with at least one professor.  Just do it.
  8. Don’t despair about the future.  Fun fact: that feeling of uncertainty doesn’t actually go away.  At least, I don’t think it will.  But if you find purpose in your work, you can learn to deal with it.  And, in fact, you may eventually find it exhilarating.

The year after grad will likely be full of periods of uncertainty followed by bursts of elation.  Hundreds of emails, a dozen opportunities, only a handful of gigs that actually happen.  Desperation for money counteracted by a deeper longing to create something meaningful, smattered with wistful proclamations that “it shouldn’t have to be this hard”.

Please don’t be discouraged; this is all part of the process.  A Winston Churchill quote I’ve had on my whiteboard for the majority of the year is: “Success is not final, and failure is not fatal.  It is the courage to continue that counts”.  It’s gonna be worth it.  Honestly, even with all the uncertainty, I’d take this over college any day.  Student loan payments and all.

So hang in there, almost-college grad.  If you stay committed to chasing after your dreams, I somehow think that things are just going to turn out.

And if you were wondering, no one did notice the stolen tassel.

One thought on “Making it in the Real World: Reflections from a Year Post-Grad…

  1. I’ve been feeling kind of prematurely panicky lately about leaving in a year … this has done SO MUCH to calm my fears. 🙂 There’s life beyond college after all! Thanks, as always, for sharing your insights!

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