Originally published on LinkedIn in May 2015.

Ecstatic. Anxious. Humbled. Scared. Awakened.

These were just five of the many emotions flooding through my mind as I stood in your shoes one year ago waiting for to hear my name called at Commencement. I shared in your glories, and I felt your pains.

Graduation means something different to all of us. Perhaps it’s an end of a routine, a chance for a new start, or a moment of self-actualization.

I think what we can all agree on is that you’ve made it.

No more lectures. No more tests. No more B-school pizza parties. 

But in many ways, your journey is just beginning. For the first time, you’re in the driver’s seat. Where you go, how you get there, and when you get there are all up to you.

Your map will change month-to-month and week-to-week, especially as you take those tumultuous first few steps of the journey. You’ll experience the mountains and the valleys, the quick sprints and the long hauls. 

Your destination, too, will change. And that’s okay. You’ll find a way.

My own journey and destination have changed much in the past year. The pieces eventually all fell in place, but it wasn’t without a little beautiful chaos. As I reflect on the past year, I’d like to leave you with four lessons that highlighted my journey in the hopes that they’ll serve better in foresight than in hindsight.

1. Experience Life

The average student today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s. For the last 4+ years, your life’s been confined to a planner. You’ve been chasing one exam and artificial deadline after the next. 

For the first time, you’re liberated from all that. For the first time, you’re the master of your own schedule. 

Remember all those dreams you had as your attention drifted in and out of those long monotone lectures? Now is the time to make them happen.

Give yourself a well-deserved break. Travel, write, dance, love, laugh, live.

Starting your career the day after Commencement and starting a career six months later isn’t going to change your career development prospects. It will, however, give you time for a much needed recharge and allow you to plan your next chapter. 

2. Remember Who You Are

Employers are looking for passion, integrity, and character – not someone to fit a preconceived role. If you sell the role rather than yourself, you’re setting up both parties for failure.

Interviewing for a B2B content marketing job, I was asked to describe a piece of content for which I was particularly proud.

I could’ve talked about a story that got picked up by some of the biggest news outlets in the gaming industry. I could’ve talked about a pitch deck that advanced a multinational publishing deal.

But I didn’t. I said my great achievement in writing was a scrappy free-write poem.

And I got the job.

You’re interviewing the employer just as much as they’re interviewing you. It might be tempting to take the first offer you get, but do your due diligence and find out if it’s a good fit for you. Be honest with both yourself and the interviewer, and invest the time early on to find the right job – rather than realizing how much you hate coming into work three months after taking the wrong one.

3. Believe In Yourself

I’ve seen some pretty frightening job descriptions. We’re talking about pages and pages of bullet point responsibilities expecting you to do the work of a small team and a 3-5 years of experience requirement for an “entry-level” job. 

Here’s a small secret, though – no one meets all the prerequisites. Nor do employers expect them all to be met. If you can make a convincing claim that you meet 75% of the necessary requirements, you’re golden.

I cast a pretty wide net with my job applications. I applied for internships, contract jobs, entry-level jobs, manager-level jobs, and director-level jobs. As I sat by my email constantly hitting refresh, I found that the interview requests I received were often for the jobs I felt the least qualified for. I could hardly land a single entry-level interview as my resumes slipped into the black hole along with those of every other recent grad. Yet, I interviewed for the long-shot opportunities. Had I let timidity get the best of me, I wouldn’t have applied to any of these jobs and I certainly wouldn’t be in the role I am in today.

Employers are looking for the perfect employee, not the perfect position. The actual job description is something that you and your employer will mutually design in those first six months. Be yourself, and convince them of why they need you – not why they need that particular set of requirements.

4. Never Stop Learning

It’s said that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a world-class expert at anything.

I hate this statement.

Education is about genuine passion and insatiable curiosity, not about the number of hours you’ve practiced, the books you’ve read, or even that diploma on your wall. 

It may be tempting to let learning stop at the classroom (after all, you’ve probably put in your 10k hours by the time you graduate), but the real pursuit of education takes a sustained effort and a constant exercising of the mind.

Your professors taught you how to learn, and now it’s up to you to decide what to learn. Let curiosity consume you, and you’ll see lifelong results.

Take these four tips each with a bushel of salt. Your journey is ultimately yours alone, and it’s on you to decide where you’re going and how you’ll get there. It may not be a pretty journey, nor will it be an easy one. But it’s yours.

Now, Class of 2015, go forth and set the world on fire.

This post was written as part of the #Graduation series, which is tied to LinkedIn’s new student editorial calendar. Follow the stories here or write your own.

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