7 Secrets to Keeping Your Dreams Alive... Even After Graduation

"A college degree is just as good as a high school diploma, Zanele."

As I refrained from spitting out my lemon drop in shock, I replied, "Wait, what?"

My girlfriends and I meet for happy hour at least once a month. Although some of our conversations include reviewing text-message screenshots, sharing memes to illustrate our melodramatic stories, comparing Pinterest pins of African Print Dresses and breathtaking exquisite morganite jewelry by Laurie Sarah Designs, we mostly share tips on how to flourish in our lives personally, academically, and professionally.

My closest friends are recent college graduates, so the value of a college degree has become quite a popular topic.

According to a study by Georgetown University, only one of three adults in their early 20s and just more than half of adults in their late 20s are employed in full-time jobs. Yup, the cat's out the bag. A lot of my peers don't have benefits. By "peers," I mean my generation, not my girl friends. We all have a job... or three.

Don't get me wrong, a bachelor's degree isn't worthless. A young adult with a bachelor's degree earns 62 percent more than the young high school graduate.

Although a deeper analysis of the employment gap is a topic for another article, these statistics nicely illustrate why so many graduates' dreams dwindle after they walk across that stage.

Can you imagine submitting online job applications to the wizard behind the curtain (or should I say "an online portal"), the months of silence that couldn't be louder, and the hoped-for job interview that becomes an automated rejection letter? It's daunting.

The light in your dreams from that first day of your freshman year may dim, but it doesn't have to fade out. Keeping your dreams alive is the one job from which you will never be rejected, fired, or laid off. Just because you don't get your dream job right after graduation doesn't mean it's impossible.

Keep yourself motivated to achieve your dreams by following these seven secrets:

1. Write it down
Have you ever awoken in the middle of the night with your heart racing because you're so eager about the great ideas you have - but don't have a clue where to start? I have! Trust me, those ideas will remain nothing more than ideas if you decide to lie back down and not take notes. Your dreams become plans the moment you begin to write, organize, categorize, and align them with your current priorities. Once you have your dreams written down, it's much easier to turn them into small tasks that achieve a higher goal.

2. Live with intention
In my seventh-grade homeroom class, I walked in every morning and read a sign on the wall. "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." I asked my teacher if the sign was meant to sound religious. (It was a small Christian school, after all.) "No, Zanele. It simply means you have to be intentional about what you say and do--let it be a reflection of exactly what you stand for." I never forgot that.

So when you wake up every morning and identify your intentions for the day, use them as the compass that leads you to decisions that are the best representation of you, your goals, and your beliefs. When you embody your intentions, the moment an opportunity arises, you'll come to the minds of the right people, as the perfect person for the job. Walk and talk in your purpose, and the people you meet will always remember you for it.

3. Know your circle
Jim Rohn once said, "You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with." If you do the math and find you don't like the result, something must change. I must admit, this is one of the hardest lessons I've ever learned, and I'm certain I'm not the only one. The greats before us taught us, "People come into our lives for reasons, seasons, and a lifetime." When you evaluate the circle you keep under these measures, you'll always know how to find not only the purpose of your relationships but, truly, your personal purpose - without doubts or distractions. If you put more time or effort into a relationship that does not feed your soul or mind - run! If you look around and find that you don't respect something your friends do or their moral compass does not match yours - run! The same friends I was poppin' it and turning up with in the 18- and-over club, in my freshman year, are not the same friends who sit at my round table every other week to talk about life goals (well, maybe some of them... but you get my point).

One of the hardest things for human beings to accept is change - even if the "normalcy" is what's causing the most harm to our lives and careers. Surround yourself with a circle who will root for you, share innovative ideas, encourage you, and help you build. Shift away from anyone who demonstrates differently. It may hurt at first, but it will be one of the most life-changing moves you will ever make.

4. Research and reach out to professional role models
In 2012, I wrote two thousand letters to professionals in each of my aspiring fields of interest. Out of the two thousand, I eventually connected with over thirty of them. No, I didn't meet all two thousand and I didn't expect that. But I built relationships that impacted my life significantly and I learned a valuable lesson I still use today; the power of research.

Every time I arrange a meeting with a potential mentor I've never met before, their name is all over my Google search history, on both my computer and phone. I know where this person was born, what year they graduated, and even the two areas of study they thought about before declaring. Most importantly, I grasp even the smallest idea of what it took for them to achieve their dreams. I try to find out everything I can about this person - and I should, if I take my meeting with them seriously.

Learning about your heroes is essential because it encourages the thought, "I can do it, too." Most of us say we want to be just like Vanessa who moved from Uncle J's trap house to the penthouse on Fifth Avenue and a marble-floored corner office - but we have no idea what it took to get there. No one's story is the same, and there isn't a single blueprint that will work for everyone, but the process holds wisdom. Once you receive that wisdom, it can never be taken from you.

5. Mentors, mentors, mentors
After you've done your research and connected with role models in your professional field of interest-- the decision to keep them as mentors is crucial. Every accomplishment I've achieved was with the guidance of a special mentor. My intentions and skills may have been my own, but I didn't do it by myself. Someone helped me along the way. Mentors are needed for different parts of life and for a variety of reasons. They're there to help guide you through your career path and some make great personal advisers, too. The good ones will keep it real with you. They'll sometimes tell you what you don't want to hear but will benefit you substantially and have your best interest at heart. Depending on your current path, the frequency of communication with your mentor may fluctuate, but it doesn't change your need for them. Mentors are one of the most important factors in the success of your career, because their advice is knowledge attained from experiences that stem from both failure and success. This is a collaborative relationship - you should find people you can learn from as they learn from you.

6. Do it yourself
Before accepting my current position, I found myself mostly excited and inspired when I'd brainstorm ways to develop my own brand and organization. We live in the greatest age of entrepreneurship and self-starter businesses. Technology has created unprecedented opportunities to study online, attend leadership seminars, and build a business that reaches billions around the world. If you truly believe in your purpose, research the platforms that can deliver everything you may be looking for (and more) in a career. I can admit: It's hard work, and with the never-ending responsibilities of a founder, it's not a role you can clock in and out of. But it's far more gratifying to invent something that impacts the world and enables you to truly say, "I did that."

7. Believe in yourself
This is one of the simplest - but most important - secrets of them all! No one on earth knows you better than you. You are your own recruiter, agent, life coach, and cheerleader. Before you earned your degree, began a career search, or even completed high school, you knew your heart's desire. And if you didn't, I guarantee there was a time when you actually believed you would find your way, no matter what. You are responsible for the energy you seek and the energy you internalize. Please hold on to everything that allows you to be ever- evolving, innovative, and prepared to inspire the world.

As long as you follow at least one of these rambles of mine, I believe your dreams can stand a chance.

Until next happy hour...

This post was originally published on ZaneleMe, Zanele Mutepfa's blog.