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To the graduating senior

Published: January 29, 2013
Section: Opinions

Throughout your entire life you have been told the same mantra: If you do well in school, you can be whatever you want to be. And so you have lived by this mantra and have worked hard so that someday you can reach your potential, make money and “be what you want to be.” In high school, you dreamed of going to Brandeis and earning a high GPA so that you could become a doctor. And now, years later, you’re finally in the home stretch of your career at Brandeis and you have managed to get good grades thus far. You have reached the top of the mountain that you’ve been climbing since your first days at high school—yet the peak seems to be consumed by fog.

This is because now that you are about to graduate, you realize one thing that They never told you: being whatever you want to be encompasses several options, all of which have their downfalls. Work is work, you are just coming to painfully realize. And suddenly, even being a brain surgeon or judge or senator no longer seems as easy or rewarding as it once did.

Now that you’re nearing the end of your college career, Hardworking Senior, you’re learning about the absurd amount of hours you have to put in during your medical school residency (assuming you even manage to get into medical school) and the ridiculous amount of hours per day, days per year and years that it takes to make any kind of name for yourself in the field; this, aside from making enough income to begin paying off your debts.

Or perhaps your plans were to go to law school. Now that these options are becoming more tangible and you’re meeting with various attorneys, the only influential advice they give you is, “Do not go into law; get out now.”

All of a sudden, you regress back into the seven-year-old you: the little boy who dreamed of becoming a fireman or the president of the United States. At least those jobs seem fun.

You’ve finally come to the realization that Scrubs is completely out of sync with reality, that Law and Order is a gross romanticization of law enforcement and that Suits is just a soap opera. None of these TV shows share anything in common with the Actual World, and thinking that Jack McCoy from Law and Order is an accurate portrayal of an attorney is like thinking that Dr. Xavier is an accurate portrayal of a doctor.

Have we reached the end of the line? Not exactly. Yes, most white-collar jobs will have you in the office 10 hours a day and aren’t nearly as exciting or glamorous as you had expected; but there is more to the real world than just that.

Just because the imminent future may look dim, don’t ease up. Finding a job is hard, work is hard and the real world isn’t like college. But this doesn’t mean give up: this means work harder.  It means push until you find your niche—and when you do, give it your all. One of your ultimate goals should be to find an occupation from which you can derive an inherent pleasure and feeling of fulfillment—regardless of the money. If it were all about money, then there would be no difference between a man who just won the lottery and a world-renowned brain surgeon in our culture. Sometimes a job that makes you happy is actually more desirable than making six figures.

Regarding the job search, there are three misconceptions that I’ve seen seniors take hold of: the idea that it is acceptable to delay your career in the pursuit of unrealistic dreams; the idea that it is essential to jump into grad school immediately after college; and the negligence of networking as a means for attaining a job.

First, the misconception that it’s appropriate to pursue unrealistic dreams in replacement of an actual paying job is naïve and harmful. While it is admirable to chase after your dreams of being a professional singer and movie star, you should not pursue these interests instead of getting an actual job. If you want to be a famous comedian or musician, you should build and pursue the interest on the side of an actual job. In other words, the priority is that you have a stable backup job in case your dream job doesn’t work out for you. If you want to become a famous guitarist, practice when you get off of work at five.

The second misconception is that it is essential to jump into grad school immediately after college. I don’t understand how some seniors can be so eager to spend $150,000 and three years of their life going to law school immediately after college, when some of them have never worked for a law firm, and most of them have no real sense of what it’s like to be an attorney.  When you go to grad school for law or medicine or anything else, you are essentially committing to that career path as one that you will occupy for the rest of your life. It baffles me that some seniors can jump into this without taking even one year to work and get a first-hand perspective on what it is like to work in these environments. And no, the internship you had after your junior year won’t suffice; you need to work hand-in-hand with attorneys or doctors to know whether law school or medical school is right for you.

The third misconception students have is that they fail to utilize alumni and other networking contacts as means for getting interviews and job offers. They put too much emphasis on applying directly to job openings. Most likely, you’re not going to get a job by simply sending your resume to the head of Human Resources.

The last lesson is this: the ultimate goal in your career is to benefit society in as much of a way as you can. We often forget this, but how successful you are is directly proportional to how much you are benefiting society. The more of an impact you can make, the more successful and satisfied you will feel. The goal is to find that field in which you can make the greatest impact.