By Nora Landis-Shack ’13
Whether you’re a sophomore or a senior, I guarantee that at some point in your college career, you’re going to freak out. About everything. You’re going to wonder whether and why it all matters, if your college education is even worth it, if your grades /friends /GPA /classes /internships are really all that important.
College can be really scary. But that’s perfectly fine, because you’re going to be okay. How do I know? Having gone through what you’re going through and watched what my friends go through it, I can tell you this with certainty; NO ONE knows what they’re doing, and they rarely ever figure it out.
Even if everyone around you seems to have it all figured out: a perfect internship, perfect significant other, perfect summer plans, or a course schedule, they’re just as scared as you. Everyone around you is confused, worried, wondering if they’ve made the right choices, if things will turn out the way they want them to.
And it’s 100 percent normal and 100 percent okay. Because guess what: for the rest of your life, you will have no idea what you’re doing. Get used to it, love it, own it. You’ll be happier for it.
I spent a lot of college stressing about job prospects and what I’d do after graduating. I worked over every break, stayed up late sending out applications, and spent a good deal of time anxious or crying or both. To those of you nodding your heads, you know how not fun this is. And all that stress, all that effort, didn’t do a thing.
Except for one: I built a fantastic and supportive network.
If I could give you all one piece of advice, it’s this: build a network. Apply to jobs or internships or program that sound fantastic even if you’re not sure it will be the right fit. Go on that summer group trip to Argentina. And talk to every HR person, marketing coordinator, med school grad, business owner, Haverford alumni, or student like you that you can.
Tell them your hopes, dreams, and fears. Ask them if they know people you can connect with, people who are interested in the same things as you, people who are doing what you think you might want to do someday.
Enjoy the simple pleasure of making connections and getting information.
Grab coffee with intelligent people, have lunch with a group of students struggling with the same challenges you are, and talk to people in the professional world. This is seriously one of the best things you can do for your future, and you’ll definitely enjoy yourself more than you would staring at a computer screen, trying to describe your emotions in 140 characters or less.
Find mentors in college. Talk to your professors, bosses, to leaders on campus. Don’t be afraid of reaching out, admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing and asking for help. You will not only get sage advice, but you’ll have found people who have faced the same challenges you’re facing now.
All the stress, effort, and time I put in didn’t actually help me find any direction or career path. It did, however, prevent me from staying up late with my suitemates, laughing over beers until 2am.
What did help was letting go of all of it. When March rolled around, I gave up. I had a thesis to write, and I wanted to enjoy the last two months of college before entering the big scary real world.
I relaxed. I went out. And I built relationships. Every failed interview, every person I had spoken to over the course of that year, I contacted wishing them (genuinely) a happy summer, and told them I was looking for work. I asked them to keep me posted.
It took almost 8 months after graduating to find a full time job. In that interim I had more interviews than I can keep track of. I kept building more relationships.
I was interning at a publishing house when a connection of mine put me in touch with one of his friends. We met and talked about writing, psychology, marketing, and technology. A few weeks later, she called saying they’d love to take me as an intern. The company she worked for was MongoDB, one of the biggest software companies in the world. I started in October as a marketing intern.
When MongoDB didn’t turn into a job, I relied on my network once again. My friend put me in touch with his friend, the CEO of a small startup based in the city. My internship experience gave me a foundation of knowledge that I needed to get the job. I made it through the rounds, and in January I was hired. I’ve been there since.
I still don’t know what I’m doing. I still don’t know what I’ll do next. I still learn new things every day, and I still fight the urge to stress about the future, choosing instead to take things a day at a time.
And every few months, I contact my network: go out for a few drinks, a few coffees, send a few emails. Because eventually, your professional network becomes something more; they become your friends, and they’ve got your back. They’re going to make sure you’ll be okay.