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Welcome to the Beginning

Compass Wire-bound Weekly PlannerGraduation is one of those strange endings in life where everything begins. Now that you have that degree, it’s time to apply the things you’ve studied your whole life, right?

Well, maybe-if you’re patient-patient with the job market, patient with your co-workers, and patient with yourself. Maybe my own experience can help explain what I mean.

Temper your expectations.

Fresh from college with a degree in Public Relations, I was bent on getting a job in P.R. However, I learned quickly that most businesses simply don’t have a budget for the job I studied to acquire. Most PR responsibilities are couched inside the Marketing department. So after months of searching, I decided that I liked Marketing.

Do your best-everyday.

My first “real” job found me acting as the entire marketing department-writer, designer, coordinator, photographer, trade show attendee, and PR Manager. I loved that job, but I was afraid I was going to be discovered-certain that, at any moment, someone was going to say, “Hey, that guy’s just faking it!” But I kept smiling and working hard and soon found that people appreciated my work. One day, I confessed my concern with my boss, and he said, “We knew you were straight out of college when we hired you. You’ve exceeded our expectations.”

Be honest.

Many years later, in a job interview with a CMO I told him about that first job and the fear I faced. He told me he still feels that way. “We’re all faking it from time to time,” he said. That simple honest statement from a man I looked up to increased my trust in him, and made me want to work harder for him.

Consistent effort will keep you buoyant.

Before you leave the cozy confines of college, you dream of sailing off and conquering the business world. But once you find yourself in the turbulent waters of industry you’ll realize that your first objective is to keep floating. In today’s economy lay-offs are common. I’ve been through several, but that first one was the hardest. I still remember the date and time of my first lay-off more than 13 years ago.

When I got into my car at 3:05 that gray January afternoon and started driving home to my wife and 3-month-old daughter, I felt like Atlas had asked me to spell him for a while-like I was going to collapse under the weight of my world. In my naivety, I figured I’d just pound the pavement and get another job-but after 4 months, I was wondering if Atlas was ever going to come back. I had some serious doubts about who I was and what I was capable of doing. That was a dark place.

Anyone who has ever been laid off experiences that strain, especially if they’re the sole provider in the home. Luckily, my wife reminded me that I had a Minor in English, and encouraged me to search in other directions. A few weeks later I was working again, but it wasn’t even close to my field of study. I doubted I’d ever work in marketing again.

Ignore negative self-talk.

All that talk of never finding my way back into marketing was just a waste of time and energy. The truth is, we can achieve whatever goal we set if we keep it in the front of our minds and are willing to sacrifice. Track your goals in your planner, continually evaluate them, and break them into manageable pieces, and in time you’ll find you are making new goals.

After six years in the Technical Writing world (and a few more lay-offs), I started networking with ad agencies and was impressed with one tiny shop in particular. I kept in regular contact with them, and eventually they hired me. All that writing had improved my skills and they needed a writer. I had found my dream job-except for the pay.

Learn from everyone.

You’ll gain wonderful insights and broader skills from every position you hold and from each person you work with. The owner of that little agency was a gifted writer who mentored and molded me. I also learned from the designers, the coordinator, my creative director, and especially our statistician who tracked the effectiveness of every piece I wrote.

Learn to market yourself.

Regardless of your field of study or where you work, you need to learn to market yourself-to unabashedly show off your best work. Hold on to everything you create. Whether it’s a spreadsheet showing the money you saved your company, a beautiful set of house plans, or an amazing photo. These items are priceless. That agency provided me with loads of beautiful work samples in the short time I was there-samples that I still use in my portfolio today.

Be willing to sacrifice.

When I left my Tech Writing job for the ad agency, I walked away from a third of my salary. I relied on my savings account to supplement my income, but it was worth it. The education, experience, and work samples from that position launched and revitalized my career. Since working there, I’ve earned everything I ever gave up for that opportunity. And I’ve never had to wonder if I would find work in marketing since.

As you navigate the waters you’ll soon wade into after graduation, I hope that you’ll remember that your education isn’t over-it’s just begun. And every experience you have will build upon the past and make you better able to manage the weight of your world.

Congratulations, and good luck.



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