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When I graduated from college I felt like a teenager in line for a roller coaster—the thrill of my upcoming adventure was bubbling up inside of me, while nerves flopped around in my stomach.  With my degree in hand, I was ready to leave small town Ohio for the vibrant, thriving city of Atlanta.  But as it goes with all major life transitions, there were some things I just wasn’t prepared for—some things I wish someone would have prepared me for.

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Here are five (and a half) tips I wish I would have known as an eager new graduate entering the workforce:

1) Be open to adventures. 

This new season in life is a brand-new playground.  Embrace it.  Enjoy it.  Moving from California to Colorado?  This is your opportunity to learn how to ski.  Maybe this is your chance to see Shakespeare in the park, go to a crawfish boil, witness bull riding, hear a new band, or ride the subway for the first time.  Seize the day!  There is a huge, beautiful world out there waiting for you to take advantage of what it has to offer.

2) Observe your new work environment. 

This is not a lesson on conformity or becoming a cookie-cutter version of others.  This is a strategy to help you find your niche at your new job or internship.  On day one you want to arrive before the official workday begins with a lunch packed and dressed in a conservative business-casual (unless told otherwise) outfit.  Then the detective work can begin. 

Does your boss always come in early?  You should be there when they arrive.  Do all of the sales managers a level ahead of you wear dresses to work, or jeans with snazzy tops?  How short are their skirts?  Are leggings a no-no?  How high are their heels?  Does everyone pack lunches, eat at the company cafeteria, or go out to the closest café?  Do your co-workers sit at their desks to eat or out on the lawn?  Does anyone go for a run at lunchtime?  Are there elliptical machines in your building?  

Again, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) be like everyone else, but you do need to figure out what is and isn’t acceptable, so you’ll show respect to your employer.  Take a few days to really pay attention to your new culture, and then decide how you can best insert yourself into your new work habitat.

3) Cling to your best attributes. 

As Dr. Seuss says, ‘There is no one alive who is youer than you!’  This is true.  You were created uniquely and specifically, with all of your strengths and gifts in one amazing package.  This is something you can take with you wherever you go in any and every stage of life.  For example, if you love to play soccer or practice yoga, find a pick-up game at the local park, or take a class at a new studio.  Just because your old team or class is miles away doesn’t mean you have to stop exercising.  If you thrive in the outdoors, find new trails to hike or bike in your new town.  In other words, don’t give up the things that make you youer than you.

4) Plug in. 

No matter if you’re headed to a new apartment a few blocks from home, or a new city across the country for your new job, internship, or grad school, you’ll want to get connected.  When I graduated, I joined my university’s alumni group.  I instantly met others who shared a similar college experience.  We knew some of the same people, liked some of the same restaurants, and had some of the same professors.  We had an instant launch pad for conversations and interactions. 

Find something that makes sense to you.  Like to play sports?  Find an intramural athletic league near you.  Are you spiritual?  Join a local church.  Into outreach?  Volunteer at a soup kitchen in town.  Love to read?  See if your local library or coffee shop hosts a book club.  You’ll not only meet new friends to help anchor you in your new adventure, but you’ll also start to feel like you are a part of your new community.

5) Find nutritious friends. 

Wherever you head after graduation, it will be filled with new people—at work, at the gym, at a club you’ve joined, or in your neighborhood.  Making new friends is always a process.  But even amongst the people you click with, be aware that there are two kinds of friends:

The junk food kind—hilarious and exciting at first, but will eventually give you a stomachache with their poor taste and bad decisions.

The nutritious kind—not always as flashy or eye-catching at first, but kind, reliable, genuinely funny, nonjudgmental people.  These are the ones you want to surround yourself with.  As we all know, there’s nothing wrong with a milkshake or French fries every now and then.  But spending every day with people who gossip or put others down, who cross boundaries you’re not comfortable crossing, well, they’ll eventually make you feel sick (just like all-you-can-eat fries).  Don’t pressure yourself to make instant friends.  This takes time.  A general rule is to meet as many people as possible and to be friendly with everyone you meet.  The more people you eat lunch with or chat with in the hallway, the more you’ll be able to weed out the ‘junk food friends’ and focus on those who bring out the best in you.  They’re the keepers.

Grow roots in your new environment, stay true to your self and find companions who will bring out the best in you!

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5 ½) While we’re talking about relationships, do not, I’ll repeat, do not flirt with or date someone from your office.  There are some exceedingly rare exceptions, like at Google where there are approximately 8 zillion employees.  Almost anywhere else this is frowned upon.  That hot, charming guy you chatted it up with on the elevator might not end up being your soul mate.  And if it ends up as anything less, one of you might still end up working with, or even worse, working for one another, which only translates as awkward. 

Graduation is a doorway to a whole new world.  There are adventures waiting for all five of your senses, new places to explore, flavors to savor, and people whose stories will blow you away.  To fully embrace the new opportunities in store for you, grow some roots in your new environment, stay true to your beautiful self, and find companions who will bring out the best in you!

 

Laura L. Smith writes real stories for real girls. She is the author of several popular fiction books, including the Status Updates series and the False Reflection series. As a mother, blogger and sought-out speaker, she emphasizes the importance of embracing true beauty and longs to help others discover their true reflections.

 

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