How to Prepare For the Transition From College Student to Work and Adulthood

As graduation approaches, how do you manage all the feelings you're experiencing? I've got answers.

Are you about to graduate?


Are you feeling scared, anxious, ambivalent, or even terrified about life after graduation or your future?


YOU ARE NOT ALONE.


Thousands of you are graduating and feeling the same way. You are graduating into a pandemic and competitive economy and workforce.


I, too, felt so many overwhelming emotions when I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012 as we were recovering from the Great Recession. I was so overwhelmed that I postponed looking at job postings or beginning the job search process until after graduation.


I took a gamble and thought, "Hey, I'll figure it out afterward,” which was a bold move given that I had bills to pay.


The process of graduating and looking into the future is an overwhelming experience. But, my goal is to help young professionals transition into the workplace mindfully and with intention.


This video answers the question, how do you manage all the anxiety-inducing emotions you are feeling now?


As graduation approaches, you're likely to receive messages and advice from many people.


What should you do next?


I’ve got three tips and insight into this phase of life.


Tip 1: Recognize Your Are Undergoing a Transition


A transition is a change or a shift from one experience to another. Transitions, by nature, are scary. They are anxiety-producing because you're moving from a safe and predictable place to something uncertain and unpredictable.


To move forward with confidence, the first step is to recognize you are undergoing a transition. You identify it and name it.

"I'm a student transitioning from being a college student to a working professional and into adulthood, and the transition is unsettling."

For some of you, the transition is clear-cut. You have a job lined up. You know your next step is to show up for your first professional job. Others will have an uncertain path. You don’t know if you will have a job soon or be unemployed and for how long. It makes sense you would feel scared, anxious, and overwhelmed.


And, I’m also sure half of you are questioning your decisions.

  • Am I choosing the right job?

  • Am I choosing the right career path?

  • Should I travel instead of finding a job?

I graduated ten years ago, and I can tell you now that there’s NO wrong choice.


This phase of life is pretty insignificant in the long scheme of things. You can and will be able to PIVOT if something does not work out. You just need to set time frames to address challenges that arise in the future.


For example, if you get a great job but find out, it's a toxic workplace after a few weeks. As soon as you recognize it, you can take action. You can choose to leave immediately or start planning your exit strategy. When workplace challenges arise that you cannot control, you must act quickly. You don't want to leave a job with work trauma. Get out as soon as possible.

We can't plan for the mistakes we're going to make. We just need to prepare for them.


This moment is scary, anxiety-producing, and terrifying to some extent because of its level of uncertainty and the fear of making the wrong decision. But remember that you've already experienced a variety of transitions in your life, and you've already adjusted to unforeseen challenges. You can do it again and again. Being adaptable and flexible is part of life.


When you decided to go to college and left your friends, your family, and your predictable life for this new adventure, you were likely questioning your choices too. Wondering if you were fit for university-level schooling or if it would be a fun experience. And you figured it out. So you've done it before, and you can do it again.


When I left my family to go to UC Berkeley for undergrad, I was terrified. I was excited but also sad and scared about life without my family and brothers, unlike my very excited peers. They weren’t burdened with the cultural and social expectations that I was. Choosing to leave was hard. But it worked out.


How to Manage Your Emotions During a Transition


One simple tip to avoid getting overwhelmed by your feelings is to create a mantra.


Wait!


I am not talking about your typical aspiration mantras.


"I'm going to be successful, and I'm going to be rich."

I want you to create a mantra that NAMES the phase that you are in and that POINTS to an absolute TRUTH instead.


These mantras are to ground you, remind you that you've gone through transitions before, and you will do it again for the rest of your life.


Here are two examples.


Create your own, so you can print it out and reference it when the moment feels overwhelming.


"I am okay. I am going through a transition. I've gone through many transitions before. And I can do it again."
"I was this anxious and nervous when I left for college, but I figured it out. And I will do the same again."
“The transition from high school to college was rough. But I asked for help when I realized how hard it would be and got the support I needed. I know how to ask for help in moments of transitions.”

These are the types of mantras we want to use to move us through challenging times. Notice that these mantras remind us about the past and how we dealt with challenges in the past successfully. They acknowledge the truth of a past experience.


Tip 2: Expectations Are Weighing You Down


Another reason you're feeling overwhelmed and anxious by your college transition is that expectations are weighing you down.


You likely feel like Luisa from Encanto. People are placing their expectations on your shoulders. And because you’re not vetting any, they're just piling on and piling on and piling on.


An expectation is a belief that something will happen or that you will achieve something. And college graduations are moments where everyone shares their expectations. If you don't vet the expectations piled on your shoulders, your college transition will get hard.


At this moment, people, including your parents, will have and share a whole set of expectations. They're going to assume you are ready to head to the races and that you're going to become a go-getter in your career or field.


It's important to understand that expectations are heavy and add stress to an already stressful situation. The transition from college life to adulthood and working professional is challenging already because many changes are co-occurring. You don’t need to carry everyone’s expectations too.


You need to vet these expectations early on in your career before you try to meet them. If you try to meet everybody's expectations, you may burn out.


Why Expectations Contribute to Burnout


Expectations contribute to burnout because they CAN NOT be standardized. The expectations your parents have of you are different than the ones you have for yourself. The expectations of your professional networks or leaders in your industry or field are also very different.


In trying to meet everybody's expectations, you risk burning out early in your career. And we know that burnout takes years to overcome. And honestly, some of you are likely showing symptoms of burnout.


If you were a high achiever in high school and a high achiever in college, and you've been powering through school, you may be experiencing symptoms of burnout. Burnout doesn't just happen in the workplace. It happens in your educational career as well.


Symptoms of burnout include feeling unmotivated, anxious, indecisive, uncertain, and not finding joy or excitement in your interests or field. If you notice these symptoms, talk to somebody on the college campus before you leave.


Defining Expectations, Goals, and Outcomes


Before we continue with our exercise, we need to understand the differences between expectations, goals, and outcomes. We tend to blend these three distinct terms. And the goal of the exercise below is to, at the minimum, define your goals or name your specific outcomes for this transition.

  • An expectation is a belief something will happen in the future.

"I expect to land the job of my dreams as an aerospace engineer after graduating with my Master's."


What's important to remember about expectations is the emphasis on belief. You believe, your parents believe, your friends believe this "X" will happen. Unfortunately, belief doesn't consider the amount of effort you must put into turning that expectation into a goal or an outcome. It doesn't take into account the nitty gritty challenges you will face to meet this expectation. When people share their expectations with you, they're not considering all these requirements and imposing unrealistic expectations on you. It can be overwhelming listening to everyone's expectations because you might know intuitively how much work it takes to meet an expectation.

  • A goal is something you work towards, and captures your ambition and effort.

"I want/desire to work for NASA as an aerospace engineer."


Naming a goal moves you from believing that something will happen to you automatically to working towards a desired goal. Goals are broad but clearer than setting an expectation. Setting a goal allows you to plan for the future and acknowledges your effort and active engagement in achieving this goal.

  • An outcome is specific and precise.

"I want to work for NASA as an aerospace engineer by the time I turn 30. I'm working through my five-year plan to help me land my dream job."


An outcome clearly defines your true desire. It addition to being specific and precise, it's often tied to time and a detailed plan to stay on track. Naming desires in terms of outcomes is the best way to achieve them. But it's not always possible, especially if you don't know where you're going.


If you don't know what you want to do with your future yet. Focus on turning expectations into goals you want to work towards. Remember that you can always change your mind and pivot in a new direction.


How to Deal With Expectations During a Transition


First, you need to identify all the expectations placed on your shoulders and name them. Then you vet them and decide which ones matter right now, which ones you want to meet, and which you want to ignore.


This exercise will help you prioritize these competing and, often, conflicting expectations. Download this PDF or divide a piece of paper into four squares and name them parents, self, society, and culture.


I’ll share mine from when I graduated in 2012. Go to 8:48.


Otherwise, respond to these questions.


Step 1: List Your Parent's Expectations.

  • What do your parents expect from you in this transition?

It can be simple like – finding a job. Or descriptive - find a web developer job that pays a hundred thousand for a specific company.


Step 2. List your expectations.

  • What do you expect of yourself in this transition?

Step 3. List expectations are coming from society.

  • What societal messages are coming your way?

Messages are different for everyone as they depend on your industry and field. They can also come from media, professional networks, mentors, and peers.


College graduates in 2012 were graduating into a recovering recession, so the main message we received was “good luck” with the competitive job market. We were competing with professionals laid off in 2008, so everyone knew finding a job would take time. As time passed and the start-up sector grew, graduates were encouraged to join startups. Now, in 2022, the message is to go after big tech jobs instead of startups.


Societal messages often change, so the question is, do they align with your interest and desired life goals?


Step 4: List expectations coming from your culture.

  • Based on your culture and your ethnic or racial identity, what expectations does your community have of you?

  • What cultural expectations are you expected to meet, if any?

Are you expected to pursue a specific career or start preparing for personal milestones like marriage?


Step 5: Select the top 3-4 expectations you want to meet. Turn them into goals.

  • When you have to make a decision, look at this list and ask yourself, will this lead me to my goals?

  • Do their expectations matter to me now?

  • Do they align with my goals?

  • Which can I ignore or push out a year?

Your expectation can be as simple as finding a job that allows me to pay the bills. Keep in mind that you will be working for a lifetime. If you need a job to pay your bills and to give you time to be intentional, take the time.


Honestly, make the best decision that you can.


You will know if you are in the right industry, sector, or company when you get into a job and start doing the job.


That’s when you will become discerning about what you like and don't like. That's when you're prepared to make informed decisions and will be able to pivot into a career that aligns more with your values, skill sets, and identity.


So understand that this first job matters to pay the bills, but it doesn't have to be life-altering.


Tip 3: Lack of Clarity Leads to Anxiety About the Future


Another reason you’re feeling anxious is likely due to your lack of clarity because you have not developed a plan.


Like any journey, project, or endeavor you take on in life, you need a plan.


Have you written out a plan for this college transition? No?


It is time to do that. You need to know what the next few weeks or months will look like post-graduation.


Here are some simple questions you can answer.

  • How do you plan to spend the first-month post-graduation?

  • Getting onboarded to your job because you already have a job?

  • Returning home to spend a month with family and resting?

  • Traveling for a month?

  • Have you already assessed what tools and resources you have?

  • What tools or resources do you need?

  • Have you identified the gaps in your transition plan or resources?

Grab a paper and get things out of your mind or download this made-for-your-college transition plan template.

In summary, to reduce all the anxiety-inducing emotions you're feeling during your transition from college to a working professional, you must plan for the future you want. Carve out time to complete the exercises below.


More videos on how to handle transitioning from college student to working professional are coming. Subscribe to the email list and the channel for most career tips.


Episode Exercises

  1. Create a mantra about this transition grounded in truth from a past experience (4:45)

  2. Name, vet, and prioritize all the expectations on your shoulders (8:47)

  3. Create a college transition plan (14:35)

Episode Resources


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