There was nothing that could have prepared me for my life five years after graduation. There are just some life lessons that your parents can't teach nor your professors. This month marked five years since I packed up my suitcase and moved to the Big Apple. I was bright-eyed and enthusiastic about what the City had in store for me. I had dreamt about the moment ever since I was a little girl and after my first visit to New York City in 2000 I set goals, drafted plans and navigated my way to my dreams.
The plan was to go to college. Check. Move to New York City. Check. Work in public relations. Well, the last thing on my list wasn't as easy as they made it seem. Experiencing the career setback created a domino effect of other problems. It started first with my confidence, it changed my lifestyle because of the limit of income and financial stability and it weaken my spirit.
There were many thrown my lemons my way, but I had to figure out how to turn those negative situations into something positive. Despite the ups and downs I survived my first five years of postgraduate life. The road wasn't easy, but there were a few things that I learned that helped get me back on track to living and creating the life that I wanted.
Not Everything is in Your Control. One of the toughest lessons to learn is to let go of the things that you have no control over. For example as a minority coming into a job market that was slow, I was competing for the few slots that were reserved for multicultural candidates at agencies and firms. I learned later in life that all though many companies preach diversity, there was a typecasting that was taking place that I didn't fit into. People are looking for good fits for their company's environment and I wasn't the right type of black woman for the role. It didn't matter if I could get a media placement in USA Today, it only matter how comfortable people would feel going to happy hour with me. I also learned that many places are required to interview a certain number of "diversity" candidates for open roles even when they have already hired someone for the role. When I didn't get certain jobs, I would pick apart everything that I did but after awhile I knew that I did everything possible. I tore myself apart and broke myself down when I didn't have too. Circumstances beyond me shaped the outcome of me not getting into certain doors. It's not me, it was always "them", and I learned it the hard way.
Advocate For Yourself. You are your best advocate so don't sell yourself short. I remember feeling so desperate for a job and I was willing to take anything and any pay just so I can say that I was working. That's a bad idea, because as much as a company is looking for a good fit, you too must see if the company is a good fit for you and your lifestyle. Another way you must advocate for yourself is with your salary. You know your worth and you should be compensated for it. Be confident and learn the basic tricks for negotiating your salary so that you can be comfortable with your living wage. Don't be in a position where you are bitter because you work twice as hard as your counterparts and you make significantly less than them. Ask for more by leaving emotions at home and negotiating everything. You have to do what's best for you.
Manage Your Brand. Not all of us are fortunate to work at Fortune 500 companies. Many of us will work at companies that will not be recognizable to the average person and that is why we have to learn that we are more than our jobs. We are all walking brands. Our name and our reputation is all we have so we have to manage it and take care of it. Define your brand, then build it and manage it until it brings you value. Managing your brand allows people to recognize what makes you the only one who can do what you do. It's powerful and you must maintain it. Leilani M. Brown, CMO of Starr Companies suggests you start by cleaning up your social media accounts, giving yourself a makeover, working on your elevator pitch and reevaluating the company you keep.
Create Your Own Opportunities. The biggest lesson I learned since graduating is that I already possess the skills and talents to create my own opportunities. As many doors that were closed on me during my job search, I didn't realize that I already had what it took to do exactly what I wanted in my career. You don't have to wait around for an employer to validate your God-given talent and skills. You can use your own keys and open your own doors if you just bet on yourself. Find ways to use your degree and offer your services as your side hustle. Pick up clients and build your portfolio until you can make your side hustle your full time job.
Life may seem uncertain after college, but the years to come are full of hope and promise if you use your tools to shape it the way you envisioned.