Students, You're Missing One Big Thing

Mental Health puzzle

Degree or diploma? Check. Housing? Check. Yelp, Google Maps, and music apps downloaded? Check.

By any other standards, you are set to go out into the real world, venturing one by one into the abyss of cubicles, a standard work schedule, and an environment where “ergonomic office equipment” gives you a slight shiver of excitement.  

You have a degree, a standard set of savings, and you have a basic plan: move to X, get a job, and begin your life. At least, that’s what I had when I graduated almost 3 years ago now… the goal? Get a job (any job). The savings? Not enough. And the degree? A piece of paper that in my mind, is still too small to resemble 4 years, countless memories, and a mof debt to pay off.

Yes, you have the corner pieces of the puzzle: education, a semblance of a plan, and some semblance of support (financial and emotional). Yet there’s the other, large corner piece of the puzzle missing:

Mental Strength. 

What comes to mind when you think of “strength”- athletes and bodybuilders? Picture your brain, the center of your emotions, as an athlete. To me, mental strength has many parts: people skills, conversation skills, analytical skills, the ability to reflect and adapt, and most importantly, the ability to transform a hazy idea of a notion (such as success) into a feasible concept, and then into a reality.

Mental strength cannot be learned from a PowerPoint presentation or a textbook; there is no secret weapon that you may buy or learn. As every athlete does, you need to treat your body with care. Focus on positive thoughts, and work on people skills by detaching yourself from your mobile device once in a while. Reflect on what you enjoy doing and your goals, and think about your strategy to get there.

The hardest thing to maneuver in every office setting can be the people, but I’ve found (through extensive retail and waitressing research) that the more time you spend with people, the easier they are to read. Look to how they treat their superiors and inferiors, and ask them what makes them tick early on. Experience is the best teacher when it comes to knowing which is the best work environment for you.

For me, mental strength came in waves: I grew up a lot in college, and am very grateful for the ups and downs that time generally brings. However, it wasn’t until my first foray into the working world that I began to learn the other aspects of mental strength, such as the ability to command a conversation, the tact and grace that is necessary in an office setting, and the importance of resilience. I’d always thought proudly of myself as a scrappy, hard worker, but this rush into the corporate world was unsettling. I didn’t know it then, but I was following what any solutions-based person would do:

  1. Know how you define success, and then determine how your surroundings fit into that vision of success.

  2. Rarely anyone will get their dream job right after college. Think of your job hunt as a rung in the jungle gym, not a rung on a ladder- you may not know where the next step takes you, but every job is temporary, and adapt your job search and networking skills as such.

  3. Once your problems have solutions, they become obstacles. Work through them the way anyone would: by analyzing the issue, proposing solutions, and then commit to a solution. If that solution fails, adapt further by committing to another solution.

  4. When it’s time to continue on your career path to a different department, company, or project, trust your instincts.

  5. Don’t give up hope. I remember my first "real" job as a theoretical adult. Though it wasn't exactly what I was looking for at the time, it provided me the skills I needed. Looking back, I’m only thankful that I was able to experience it.

Now, I have my four corner pieces, and my focus is on filling in the rest of the puzzle – you can, too, with a bit of planning, a lot of grit, and a graceful smile.