It’s that time of the year when students walk up the stage, shake the hands of the dean with one hand and reach with the other for that much-coveted diploma. Gone are the late nights to finish a report or capstone project. It’s time to take a breather. I remember riding the thrill of the days leading up to my own graduation one hot April day, umm, more than a decade ago.
“What next?” The question looms large for many who haven’t figured out the next step as soon as the march ends. If taking a gap year is out of the picture for financial or another reason, then the most logical answer is “Find a job”. Thus starts the grueling job search: filling out online application forms (do those even work?), prepping for interviews, and waiting to hear back from the hiring manager, if at all.
The wait can be excruciatingly long, especially with the anticipation of that first job. In my case, it took six months to land that first job out of college. Looking back from this experience and the many times I’ve been in-between jobs (which stretched from two to seven months), the sudden lack of structure and freed up schedule can be a bit jarring. It made me think of the ways I stayed sane within this period, if not productive. So instead of sulking and on top of binge-watching, here are four ways to keep your mind and body busy, and silence that ticking internal clock:
- Take a break! Treat this down time as your vacation, because that’s what it is. After pulling all-nighters to wrap up papers and projects, you need and should take that well-deserved break. Besides, when you start working, you can only dream about the days that bleed into one another, without worrying about beating a deadline or pleasing a boss. Now is the time to live that dream.
- Form healthy habits. I went to university with a beautiful and definitely joggable campus, but I only started running right after college. It wasn’t much fun running while watching out for dog poop or dodging tricycles, but I’ve built in physical fitness into my routine since then. Whether it takes 21, 66, or 254 days to form a habit, and even if you’re bad at what you’re doing to start with, the key is to be just consistent.
- Learn a new skill. Take a short course you wish you had taken back in university, from writing, digital marketing or product management, these skills will always come in handy and maybe even give you a leg up and standout from a pool of applicants with homogenous skills. These days, there are tons of MOOCs to choose from.
- Launch a small project. I’m a big fan and advocate of personal projects. I’ve written how it helped me get a job at the World Bank. But passion projects don’t have to be directly related to work. This should be your fun project, and ideally should tie up with that new skill you just learned (see above). Think combining your hobby and learning a new skill, be it curating a Facebook page that features your favorite essays or growing and selling succulents in cutesy pots. The goal isn’t to make money, but to have fun and learn how things work along the way.
Before leaving for grad school to Germany, I met a former colleague whom I told I’d be quitting my government job, and felt worried about the uncertainty of not having any job prospects after finishing my Masters. My fears turned out to be true, when it took me a year and a half interning and later starting (and quitting) a Ph.D. before landing a job that I wanted. I’m neither saying to do the same nor those were a year and a half down the drain. I got to help in the logistics and attend an international climate conference where I honed my research skills along the way. This bode me well in my work that required experience in knowledge exchange and familiarity with the technical rigors of evaluation. I took comfort in my ex-colleague’s reply, that I’ll be armed with an advanced degree at the very least, and it can only get better.
So enjoy your carefree days yet plan to spend them wisely. There are ways to manage the anxiety by keeping busy, and sooner or later, you’ll be starting that job you’ve been waiting for.