Blindfolded I meandered through the obstacle course, guided by the voice of my partner. Meanwhile, opposing teams made noise and gave conflicting directions. Progress was slow, each step careful. The makeshift obstacles themselves weren’t difficult. The challenge was focusing through the distractions.
Post-college life often resembles this game. To reach your destination, you must separate the signal from the noise. What is noise? It’s the voices that discourage or distract us from our potential. Noise appears as disheartening employment statistics for recent grads.1 It buzzes in the remarks of critics and naysayers. And indeed it echoes in our own thoughts. The loudest nos are the ones we tell ourselves.
Noise also includes well-meaning platitudes like “follow your heart” and “live with no regrets.” Our cultural narrative says that if you want something, go for it. Even if you fail, it’s better to have tried. Certainly, people should pursue their passions and take calculated risks. But feel-good clichés are driven by emotion and blind individualism—not careful discernment. Meant to liberate, they instead entrap those without a plan. Some people spend years and squander fortunes chasing unrealistic goals.
You may not be able to silence the noise, but you can learn to tune it out.
Here are tips to stay focused:
- Know where you’re going. Navigating post-grad life can be difficult—not because the future is limiting but because it’s boundless. Whereas college was a labyrinth, post-grad life is the open sea. Course correction may be slow, so the clearer your destination, the better. If you don’t have a destination, research what the market will need in a few years. That’s where you’ll want to be.
- Know how you’ll get there. Deconstruct the steps leading up to your goal. Work backward until you have your present-day next step. Spell out the actions you need to take and the individuals you need to contact. Once you have a goal in mind, people will want to help you achieve it.
- Know why you make your choices. Whether it’s to build certain skills, gain industry knowledge, or be exposed to certain settings, understand why you accept a position. For instance, you may take a supervisory role to get management experience, even if it’s outside your desired vertical.
Many paths lead to your destination. What matters is executing well when you arrive—and indeed along the way. Immerse yourself in learning. Discern where your passions align with real needs. Develop the essential skills and attributes. And document your objectives, action steps, and progress as an anchor. They’ll keep you focused when the noises of life—discouragements and distractions—come your way.
This is the second post in our series: Advice for New Graduates.
1 The Washington Post reported that only 27% of 2013 grads worked in their field of study. CareerBuilder found that 51% of 2014 grads had jobs not requiring degrees. Recent years fared no better (2015, 2016).