It has been one year today since I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Salem State University. Like most recent college grads, school was the framework for my life for almost two decades. I never considered quite how fundamental formal education was to my lifestyle until it ended.
Cue sleeping on a pull-out couch at my grandmother’s house with my family, set in a suburban wilderness, far from the social and academic connections I’d made over the years. Rough.
The nice thing about being out of school, though, is that it gives you time and space to consider the life you want to make for yourself, without the constant background urgency of having to pass this class or complete that degree. In some ways, it is easier to create the space to reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go.
Here are four things I have learned in 365 days since graduation:
1. I am still not a musician.
As I learned back in 2011, I keep reminding myself that I am not solely defined by my skill set or occupation, and I have the freedom to explore all of my interests. This is challenging, as there is always pressure to conform in many ways. Spending time alone to take inventory of all my projects and goals is important, so I can refocus my sights on what truly drives me.
Life circumstances not only affect your ability to do what you love, but it can also affect what you love. I spent countless hours in high school and college writing and performing original songs, which I haven’t done in two years. This has not signaled a lack of creativity in my life – it has simply been redirected. It is likely that I will write music again, but for now, I’ve been exploring other areas.
I have been able to take advantage of other great opportunities, from assisting a photo shoot for Ocean Spray, to performing classical arias and jazz tunes at Finz Restaurant, to drafting a work of non-fiction. It is natural to grow and change, especially during transition periods. There is nothing wrong with doing work in a different field than your degree, or realizing you have a different dream, or perhaps multiple dreams for your life.
2. There is no such thing as a “dead-end” job.
Since I knew I had to live at home after graduation, I considered my options. My must-haves when looking for employment were, firstly, working for a company whose values I believed in, and secondly, working in a field of genuine interest to me. I was blessed to find two jobs that fit under that umbrella, both of which are a good fit for me at this time in my life, and from which I am growing and learning a lot.
At Whole Foods, my knowledge of the natural food movement has increased, and I am privileged to meet people of all backgrounds who I can help guide on their journey to health. The skills I have gained from Baldwin Hill Art & Framing are varied, including art preservation and restoration, Photoshop manipulation, and, of course, the complexities of framing. In addition, I freelance when possible, which is typically on-location assistance and graphic design/Photoshop work for local photographers.
I want to see myself as having taken the first step on my journey, not defeated because I haven’t found that one, ever-elusive “dream job” yet. Even if it was staring me in the face, I am not sure if I would recognize it yet. I think it is these formative experiences that eventually reveal to me what my “dream job” really is, while getting great experience along the way.
3. You don’t need to take everyone’s advice.
I received a national bestseller called The Path by Laurie Beth Jones as a graduation gift. Using her wise words and exercises, I am working to uncover my deepest passions and convictions, which I can use as a blueprint to find a career that fits me. In her book, she suggests:
In developing a mission statement that is unique to you, you must, at least temporarily, dissociate yourself from the influence of those around you.
There will always be someone in every stage of life that will try to offer you advice, alter your mindset on a topic, or persuade you with opportunities that, though they may be well-meaning, simply are not right for you. It takes a discerning person to figure out which these are, and confident person to reject them with politeness and grace.
As difficult as it is, I remind myself that I should never feel guilty for choosing my own path. It is good to get wise counsel, and often, good advice can be greatly benefited from. But if you feel someone’s advice is not right for you, it’s valid to choose a different route. Ultimately, I try to take the opportunities I believe in and that fascinate me, and leave the ones that don’t.
4. Freedom can still be found in constraining situations.
All college graduates enter into unique scenarios after leaving school, and have varying levels of control when it comes to their living situations and lifestyle. I spent a while being frustrated because I did not have the freedom I was used to at school, and I knew, for the time, I was stuck living at home. Without a graduation or degree in sight, sometimes it feels as though life is stretching out before you infinitely, and it doesn’t seem to matter as much what choices you make on a daily basis.
Although I could not change that fact or some of the other elements of my situation that frustrated me, I realized I always have the power to make changes, even if they are small. For one, I change my surroundings - study at the library instead of at home, spend time in nature to elevate my mood, and plan time to see faraway friends. I also make time to try something new every once in a while, so that I don't get stuck in the rut of a same old routine.
It is easy to compare, and there is always going to be someone who seems “ahead” of you - you could perceive them as living a more exciting life, achieving more goals, etc. It is hard to escape from the mentality that we are all running the same race, and that there are winners and losers. To me, this is the most constraining (and just plain untrue) situation of all. I am working hard to reorient my thinking to see that I am free, if not to change my whole life right now, to take a step towards a better day - not to get "ahead" of anyone else, but to make a better world for myself and those around me.