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Why You Shouldn’t Stress About Your First Post-Grad Job, Even if it’s not Your Dream

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Landing any paying job right now feels like a home run; you’ve learned, you’ve hustled, you’ve dived… But after that win comes a guessing game: Is this what I want to be doing? Is this what I should be doing? Was this the right degree for me? If I’ve learned one thing from my four years of studying English, it’s that while “job” and “career” pass for synonyms, one does not determine the other.

Your first job post-grad is the first step of the lifelong path that is your career. But while this role you’ve scored might open doors, make valuable connections, or even launch your career, it does not have to decide your vocational success.

Based on the Japanese term Ikigai, meaning “the reason to get up in the morning,” there are four pillars to finding your vocation: the intersections of your profession, passion, mission and calling. 

[bf_image id="qengai-cr0jhk-83dfo4"] Your vocation requires that:

You’re great at it 

Pay special attention to the daydreams based on your talents, as they may offer sneak peeks to your calling. While you might have multiple talents, maybe you can't get a particular class out of your head, or maybe there's something you focus on in your free time because… 

You love it 

Following your heart tops following your skills every time. You might have a talent for understanding science, but that’s not going far if you’re wishing you were doing something else all day long. Where your interests and skills intersect defines your passion, a positive sign, especially if… 

The world needs it  

If you have a passion for it, chances are someone else out there has a want or need for what you’re offering. It’s hard to tell what the world needs right now, but passion and hard work scarcely go unrewarded, even during times like these. Speaking of needs, we all know it’s important that…

You’re paid for it

Follow your passion, and money will follow you. Everyone always warns against studying or pursuing a field just for the money, but that advice seems questionable now. Not just because it’s time to get an adult job, but in the midst of a pandemic, it seems most post-grad career plans are on hold or even starting from scratch.

Money and passion might not happen right away for you, but there’s always a solution. Whether it’s a side-hustle or a remote part-time position, there’s something for everyone.  

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How you make money can play a major role in determining your first post-grad job. I learned this from an older friend and role model, Shelby Hennen, a graduate of Rockhurst University, who took full advantage of a post-grad opportunity in front of her. Shelby’s undergrad dream involved breaking into the arts administration realm, but her first post-grad position was an admissions counselor at the same small campus where she had just spent her previous four years. That actually proved more beneficial to her career in the long run. “I decided to go for it because I was able to get my Master’s degree paid for by the institution,” she says, “and thought the role provided the option to develop particular skills that would help later on in my career.” And it did, seeing as Shelby broke into arts administration the following year. “There were plenty of times when I wondered if this was really setting me up to do what I wanted to, or [if it] would send me down a different path. At the end of the day, no regrets.”

Sometimes paid non-dream jobs help bring unpaid dream jobs into reality. That’s how it went for Molly Rapp, a graduate of Webster University whose undergrad dreams revolved entirely around dancing for a professional ballet company. After receiving her BFA in Dance and a BA in Business Management, finally ready to begin the expensive, time-consuming process of auditioning for professional companies, she relied on paying side-gigs, which included giving college campus tours, teaching dance, and even working at Baskin Robbins – none of which an undergrad Molly would have considered part of her wildest dream.

She always understood the risks involved with pursuing a professional dance career. Between the minimal job market, the intense competition, and meager pay, she had no choice but to maintain a practical mindset, which was where the Business degree came into play. “There was a piece of me that was realistic,” she says. “My ultimate dream may not be feasible, and I needed to have another avenue that was interesting to me.”

But second-guessing her own career began with outside sources. “When you tell people you are working towards a BFA in Dance, they basically ask, ‘What are you thinking? How do you plan on making any money?’ I received a lot of skepticism, and I always had to follow up that I was also working towards a business degree,” she says. The financial stability of the non-dream jobs, along with the anchor of a business degree, eventually allowed Molly to chase her unpaid dream job at the Big Muddy Dance Company in St. Louis, an opportunity, which eventually blossomed into her current paid position, on top of a promotion to Office Manager, magically utilizing both of her degrees at once.

“Although I did not join a strictly ballet company, my original plan, the Big Muddy has presented me with incredible opportunities and responsibilities I would not have found elsewhere, creating an even better reality than I could have imagined.”

A cure for comparison

I’ve spent this first summer out of college bartending at the same country club where I’ve worked for the past three summers, sending application after application to anything more in line with my writing degree. It’s a constant struggle to stop comparing my path to that of others – friends with different, more direct career choices, classmates with the same career choices, even fictional characters (because I’m a sucker for questioning why my writing career is not on par with Anne Hathaway’s in The Devil Wears Prada).

If you’re like me and you need to compare, compare positively. I love hearing about some of my favorite writers and artists who also started off as bartenders (Aaron Sorkin, Jon Hamm and Sandra Bullock, just to name a few). Ask anyone you know, and chances are that they didn’t nail their dream job right out of college – and that wasn’t even during a pandemic. No one is J.K. Rowling right out of college, including J.K. Rowling!

Everyone has their own career path. Molly experienced a similar career-comparison, even after she finally reached her professional goal. “It was, and is, sometimes hard to see them hold a typical 9-5 job with weekends off, while I am working 12-15 hour days and weekends just so I can do what I love," she says. "Overall, I find myself much happier and more satisfied with my career in comparison to friends.”  

Shelby similarly admits that, “Whether it’s classmates from school who I follow on Instagram or autobiographies of people I admire, I’m constantly comparing where I’m at career-wise to other people. I definitely don’t think I have it figured out, but I am constantly reminding myself to keep my eyes on my own paper.”

That person on Instagram who looks all figured out might just be faking a smile and trying to get through the work week. Their job might not even last as long as you think it will. If you need to compare, remember that no one’s first job out of college is anything more than their first job out of college.

But the best way to avoid comparison is to focus on you and where you are. Mike Theobald, on staff with Career Services at Rockhurst University, recommends, “With your first career position, be a sponge and learn everything you can. That will only help you as you progress throughout your career.” But it’s easy to convince yourself you’re in the wrong place when this is your first job out of college. “Don’t job hop,” Theobald adds. “Everything will take some time, persistence and dedication. If you do transition, make sure you are going towards something you want instead of moving away from something you don’t want.”

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Stop “should”ing all over yourself

The word “should” becomes the slippery slope, down a road to second-guessing and doubting yourself into doing what you think you should do. It slowly cuts you off from what you want, what you would otherwise be open to. Rather than focus your energy on what you should do, focus on what you’d love to do.

At the end of my senior year, I learned a lot about the evils of “should” from my Rockhurst campus minister, Bill Kriege. Countless students and grads have confided and reflected to Kriege about their vocations, their paths, and the daydreams that could completely change their course, some as early as a week after graduation. “When we try to force ourselves into different molds,” he says, “we can definitely lose openness to how God calls to us on a daily basis.” That can reduce freedom and openness to what might be multiple good paths for our vocation.

As someone who is incredibly happy where he is in life, it's refreshing to hear him share that so many of the best aspects of his success weren’t even on his radar right after he graduated. “That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good for me to imagine, and daydream, and prioritize and work toward goals,” he adds. “Even if they never came true or didn’t end up being fruitful in the end.” 

Happily ever after – for now

These are unprecedented times for job searching. Theobald says, “It may come down to obtaining the position you can get right now instead of what you really want. We saw this in 2008-2009. The economy is always cyclical in nature, and we will rebound. Whatever you are doing, make sure to demonstrate your value and how you contribute to an organization. Always explore workforce employment trends and continue developing your professional network.”

So your first job is just that: a first job. Your goals might change, your hometown might change, and you might not even realize all the hidden talents and skills you already have. Keep your eyes on your own paper, as Shelby puts it, and have faith that your career will weave a lifelong path.


Lily Buehler

Rockhurst U '20

Lily Buehler recently graduated from Rockhurst University in Kansas City where she studied English and Theater. She is also a proud alumna of Gamma Phi Beta. In her spare time, Lily loves reading, journalling, and obsessing over the latest Broadway cast albums and stars.
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