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Advice for the College Graduate

Overheard while waiting for a college theater production to begin on Friday night:  A babyboomer mom chats with  a young man, a senior set to graduate next month.

Mom: Do you have a job yet?

Senior:  A  few possibilities. I auditioned in Boston and am up for a couple of parts

Mom:  That’s terrific.

Senior: Yes, but most of them are unpaid.

Mom: Oh….

Senior: But I also have a production assistant  possibility in New York with a big  network.

Mom:  That’s great but you sound like you’d prefer acting.

Senior: Yes, I’m not ready to give up on the acting yet.  But I don’t want my father to think of me as a failure.  I’ll probably take the paid production job.

They talk a bit more  and as theater darkens the the mom adds:

Mom: Whatever job you take be prepared to be depressed for at least the next five Septembers.  I still remember how sad it was not going back to college.  It goes by so quickly.

Senior: Yeah, it’ll be tough when it hits me I’m not coming back.

What a sad conversation.  The young  man doesn’t want his father to label him a “failure” because he takes an unpaid acting job.  What are the spoken—and unspoken—messages we send to our children about the meaning of success? Is it fair to expect any new grad to be an immediate success as defined by a job with a career track.  What about taking risks as we mentioned in a  previous post about exploring options.  Do we want our children to turn around at age 40 and say, “I would have liked to be a (fill in the blank) but I knew that would disappoint my parents”?

Of course no one  should/could support an adult child with a college degree and employment possibilities.   If  that young man wants the  unpaid acting gig  he needs to acquire a basic skill required of actors:  waiting on tables.  Maybe he can make a living as an actor; maybe not.  He won’t know until he tries.  Will the other job possibilities fade away? Probably.  Other doors will open. 

Maybe he just wants his father’s blessing, not his money, so he can give his dream a shot, not for an open-ended period but two or three years. Maybe  he will see his name in lights.  If n0t, I’ve seen plenty of graduate students, including former actors, who have done just that and then decided to move on to another career with the satisfaction of “been there, done that. It didn’t pan out but at least I tried.” 

I felt sorry for this young man for another reason too.  Yes, there’s a big adjustment in the months  post college.  I recall a young woman telling my son as he faced his first fall of full-time work after a wonderful college experience: “Look at it this way.  Yes, your time is no longer your own to schedule. You have to go to work every day but you have your evenings and weekends free with no homework, no exams, no term papers. And your start earning your own money.” At age 22, the new grad is likely to be a little bittersweet but can also  look forward to endless excellent experiences.  Maybe instead of doom and gloom that mom should have suggested to the young man that he read a good book–“1000  Places to See Before You Die—and told him: start planning

A less expensive tip:  Tell the new grad that there’s no reason not to go to Staples every September and stock up with a few colored folders, new highlighters, some gel pens, even a binder or two.  It will feel like a fresh start for the fall, and anyway, you can never have too many office supplies.

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