It's been over a year since I graduated from Bath Spa University, and I've learnt so much in this time.
Leaving your student home and stepping out into the real world can feel like a slap in the face. Suddenly the friends you saw every day are scattered across the country, and, when you thought you had worked as hard as you possibly could during your degree, you now have to work even harder.
The thing with university is that it compasses you into a bubble. The outside world is far away, everyone you know are students, and all that matters is getting out of bed, completing your degree, and finding the cheapest night out. You don't really know who you are yet – even if you think you do, you'll be surprised at how much you learn about yourself once you venture outside of student life.
With that in mind, here are some of the things I have learnt since graduation.
1. Keep searching for the job you love
When I started applying for graduate jobs, I was picky. I was determined to get the perfect job that gave me a huge desk, fantastic benefits, lots of money, and direct contacts to the industry that I want to be in.
When I finally landed a job, however, it did not give me all those things. I had a desk, an income, and a few benefits, but it was unrelated to my desired industry and I certainly didn't feel like the ultimate businesswoman who knew exactly what she was doing.
But it did provide me with the skills I needed to move on to my next job, which is closer to where I want to be and more in tune with my goals. It made me realise that I should take every chance I get, but I must not settle.
Finding a graduate job can be a long and painful process. But seriously, don't forget what you're working for, and use each role you take as a stepping stone, taking you that little step closer and providing you with the skills you need.
2. No one really knows what they are doing
When I was younger, I used to look up to twenty-something year olds and aspire to be as perfect as they seemed. They all had a life plan and stuck to it, so everything was going smoothly in their lives.
It turns out, that's not true.
But now that I am one, I know that literally no one has their life together. Yes, the majority of us have five-year plans or something that map out when we get married, what job we'll have, where we'll live, and how many kids we'll have. I personally wanted to be in some managerial role on the verge of publishing my first novel, have a large house, and be married, all before I was 25. That's a lot to do in that time!
I know now that those things are not going to happen in such a short space of time, considering I graduated when I was 21 – that's four years to complete my plan!
And right now, I'm still living with my parents (but am looking at houses now, so that's progress!), getting a train to work in a job I never thought I would have, ready to learn new skills for my next one — a very different scenario to what I imagined.
We're all still navigating our way through this world, trying out new things and learning from our mistakes, so don't start beating yourself up just because something doesn't turn out the way you planned. Just take each day as it comes and know that you're not alone.
3. Save your money!
Gone are the days of our student loans and student discounts. Now, you've got to pay for everything full price, and you'll come to realise things can be expensive.
What makes it worse is that, a lot of the time you're going to need quite a bit of money to achieve some of your goals. Want to move out? Get saving. Want to get a job in the city? You'll need to budget for that. That holiday that you've been planning for months? That will knock you back a bit. Living is costly, so you're going to need to prepare.
But that doesn't mean sacrificing experiences or your social life. Book those holidays, concert tickets, go out for dinner, buy your favourite coffee in the morning – just try not to spend more than you earn.
4. Network, network, network
I feel so, so nervous when reaching out to new people or addressing anyone I don't know. The thought of attending any event makes me feel sick to my stomach. But, at university I was always told that, if I wanted to get where I wanted to be, I needed to seize every opportunity I could. It wasn't until I left university that I realised just how vital networking could be.
After attending my first solo writing event, I left with contacts from Stratford Literature Festival and London Book Fair, something I never thought would happen. I also volunteered at a small literary festival at a cathedral near me, and now I have the details of their archivist who is providing me with the valuable resources I need for my novel. You find people on LinkedIn who may be so helpful to you in the future, so reach out to them and stay in contact – I've made a few new connections that I know I can turn to in the future.
Look at local events that relate to your goals – even if only vaguely. Volunteer there if you can, or at least attend and hang around to meet the speakers. You also don't have to attend these events on your own – bring a friend with you if the idea is daunting. That confidence will come in time. Be more active on social channels as they provide you with people all over the world. Show how much you care for your passion and boast about your achievements, and soon you'll be heard by the people you need.
5. Have confidence
Being a twenty-something graduate is hard, but the fact is there is no true way to measure your success.
Some people can drive and some can't. Some still live with their parents while some have their own house. Some are travelling the world, and some are working in Tesco. Furthermore, social media plays a role in self-doubt, as we spend each day scrolling through our feeds comparing ourselves to others, putting ourselves down when we see someone has achieved something we haven't. In reality, you're just not at the same stage in life, and that's not a bad thing. You're just doing things your own way, at a pace that works for you.
I want a career in the publishing industry, and so, after years of looking at book accounts on Instagram and reading bookish blog posts, I gave in and started my own. But it took off a lot slower than I would have liked, and even now it still goes up and down. This resulted in me comparing myself to others, thinking I wasn't good enough, and that maybe I should look for another industry. But instead, I worked harder, and now I have more followers and blog traffic than I thought I ever would – it just took me a while to get there. And that's OK!
6. Coffee and sleep
Don't underestimate them – you'll need them, trust me.