For college seniors, March is the time when most people begin firming up their life plans after graduation. In the past month, I have known people who have been accepted to Harvard Law School, Colombia School of Journalism and Duke Divinity School. Moreover, I have friends who will be working at firms like Merrill Lynch and McKinsey & Company, and I know others who will pursue public policy degrees at the Kennedy School of Government. The folks that manage SMU’s endowment must be giddy.
I don’t bring up my friends’ accomplishments just to highlight how happy I am for them (I am quite proud), nor to underscore the privilege that helped get us all here (and there’s a lot of privilege, I know). Instead, I want to write for the “other guys.” The ones who did not get into their top choice graduate program. The ones who got turned down from the consulting firm they spent months preparing for. The ones who watch from the sidelines as their friends go off to enjoy “successful” careers while feeling completely at sea about their own futures.
Thanks to platforms like Facebook, we’re now more aware than ever of how amazing some of our friends’ lives are. And there’s always that tinge of jealousy that creeps up on us: “Gosh, if only I had what he has. I know I would be so much happier.” If there is any important life lesson I learned from four emotionally fraught years of high school, it is this: no one can make you feel bad like you can make you feel bad. It’s so easy to stare at your newsfeed, wondering where exactly you went wrong, as your friends accept endless awards and honors. How dare your loved ones go about having rewarding lives while you frantically fill out backup job applications in hopes that you don’t have to move in with your parents again after college.
For all of you out there struggling to maintain that grimace as you pat your friends on the back, I have this to say: first of all, never confuse monetary or career success for fulfillment. Yes, financial stability is hugely important in guaranteeing a happy life, but it is not the be-all-end-all. Plans change–life interferes. Your career is not going to hold you during life’s tough times; for that, a close network of friends and family means far more.
And as for any inferiority complexes you might harbor for not hitting the mark you originally aimed for, I leave you with the words of Ira Glass, whose advice on creative work holds true for just about any career endeavor:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”