Things to do After University

If you were to ask me “When you’re 40, what do you want to be doing and where?” I would have probably not have specifically said “I’d like to be living in Europe somewhere, writing books, teaching at a university, and drinking my weight in cinnamon-flavored liqueurs.” But it would be something along those lines.

I am very happy with my position in life. I have a wonderful job teaching at a university, I have great intelligent and interesting friends, and I have a variety of hobbies and pastimes. I have a side hustle that’s becoming more of a paid job.

But I did not get here by “traditional means.” I didn’t fly through college, get into an MA program, and dive directly into the profession of my choice. I had some idea of what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure exactly what hat was, so I spent years behind bars, working in bookshops, farms, and freelancing articles about mudflap production and well depth. I taught at a language school, spent years as the bottom totem, and learned the field. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I think about these things when students ask me for advice on what to do next. They’re 22ish, and about to graduate university. And they want to know, what now? While I won’t dissuade anyone from doing what they want, I make a few suggestions below of what to do in the two years after you graduate.

Before you say that these are unreasonable, let me just say – no, they’re not. These years are the freest you will probably ever be again. Therefore I suggest that you take these two years to be less pragmatic than might seem reasonable. The suggestions I make could help you become more interesting, explore your interests, learn about yourself and the world. Also, you never know what path it will send you down in life. Plus, a forty hour a week job or grad school will always be there waiting for you when you come back. So don’t be in such an almighty rush to get there.

Work in a Service Industry  

For some years in my mid-twenties I worked in a bookstore and as a waiter and bartender. In the first place, a service industry or retail job involves very few out of work concerns. You go to work, you do the work, you leave work. Additionally, you will probably meet a lot of likeminded people in these jobs. These are young people who are just starting off, so it’s a wonderful place to make more friends and expand your horizons.

Moreover, you will learn some lessons and skills both in the practical and life categories. It was in a bookstore that I was introduced to writers way off my college reading list and musicians out of the genres I’d explored. These things filled gaps in my worldly education and prompted a lifelong love of finding new writers and music.

Bartending was a paid-for education in how to multitask, work hard, the importance of patience, and an in depth knowledge about how a restaurant works. After bartending Saturday nights before Pitt basketball games, the world’s work held no fear!

Service industry jobs expose you to a corner of the workforce that you might not otherwise know about, and, trust me, having that knowledge makes you a more empathetic, self-aware adult.

Read Forty Books

Yep. Forty. Make a list of the books that, and here’s the catch, you want to read. Not books you have to read, not books that are on a professor’s list, not books that you think will prepare you for a life in marketing. But what you want to read.

Want to make it more interesting? Choose forty books from forty writers you have never read or never heard of before. Why? Because it will force you to think outside of your box, which is relatively limited.

Reading forty different writers will give you forty perspectives you didn’t have before and it will also force you to stretch the limits of your little world. You may find a Japanese mysteries that sparks an intense interest in Japanese film, a seventy year old historical fiction novel that makes you want to visit Egypt, literary erotica that will make you rethink sexuality, a woodworking  book that finds you buying second hand tools and making bird feeders, or biographies that get you to buy a ticket to Toronto. Reading is not only a cheap education, it is world expanding, which is the whole point of education.

Study Something that Interests You

I had plenty of time on my hands while I was bartending and I never took advantage of that time to take a class or to do a course. If I could go back I would probably take a year long course on things I have become interested in over the last few years. For example I would probably take martial arts, a course on birds, outdoor leadership, or graphic design. Maybe I’d do a course on botany, or cooking, or study a language. Of course I can do these things now, but then I had time and few commitments.

These seemingly little things are what will make you into a person with interesting hobbies one day. More than this, you never know when a hobby can turn into a full time profession and obsession. A friend of mine did a course on computers to pass the time before law school and is now happily celebrating twenty years as a game developer.

Live Somewhere Else

Like millions of recent grads, I travelled Europe for a few months after college. But if I could go back, I would live somewhere for a year because living abroad is an education in adulting. (I hate that this is now a verb, but it really applies here)

We all know the caricature of Americans living abroad after college, working but not really working, living off parents’ money. Yes, this demographic is represented, but if you can sustain living abroad for a year, then you will acquire a massive education in dealing with the real world.

An immigrant to a country has to cope with difficulties which arise in situations we all take for granted. Imagine being in a market where you didn’t know what anything was, or imagine being asked questions by the police in a language you don’t understand. Imagine buying a train ticket in a different language. And then there’s dealing with the cultural differences. British people have a totally different way of confronting conflict than Americans do, even though they’re speaking the same language. Sort of.

Living abroad is an adventure, a very scary, often lonely adventure. But it’s an adventure outside of a little area we’ll call Your Comfort Zone. I have one, you have one. We love them. But each journey out of your comfort zone makes you more capable and that leads to a person who’s self-reliant and self-confident.

Not only that, but living abroad develops your empathy for those who come to live in your country. This is because only people who’ve lived abroad know how scary and difficult it is to do that. And there is no better time in history to try and understand the motivations and perspectives of people who don’t have the same passport as you.

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