What it means to graduate

A conflict between passion and realism

Not too long ago, I graduated from a Master’s program. In the nine months since then, I have experienced all the imaginable phases associated with unemployment and job searching, a number of times.

I have experienced the pride of graduating from one of the top ranking schools in the world and the relief of holding your physical degree in your hands. I have experienced the excitement of submitting a job application, the nervousness of preparing for an interview, the fleeting hope that something substantial will come of it, and the disappointment of seeing that hope dwindle away as time goes by with no result. I have experienced the desperation of obsessively opening your e-mail inbox, hoping that this is the one time that your gmail has malfunctioned and somehow forgotten to notify you that an e-mail with a job offer has finally arrived. I have experienced the dilemma of receiving a job offer that didn’t quite fit your career trajectory, and the sense of strength and control associated with turning it down. I have experienced all these things, but one thing I haven’t experienced is regret.

Since completing my Master’s, I’ve had time to reflect on the transition from academia to industry. What it meant to go from being a student surrounded by like-minded peers, mentors, and professionals, all of whom shared a similar vision and unified passion, to an individual prospective employee trying to find the right fit: an organization or initiative with a rivaled sense of passion and an environment that would embrace their vision and help it grow.

The beauty of university is that it immerses you in an environment that encourages creativity and optimizes learning through knowledge-sharing and the availability of resources. Your passion is left to roam freely and grow in a hypothetical field of theory and knowledge, raw and unexposed to the harsh realities of the industry. When we leave university we take that passion with us; wide-eyed if somewhat naive, we are eager to put our knowledge to the test and change the world for the better. More often than not, however, as graduates we find ourselves in situations where our passion and vision don’t fit the already established molds that were likely hard-set before we arrived; we need to adapt, often leaving us with a sense that we are compromising more than we should.

I have learned a lot over the past nine months — about myself, the job market, and how much i’m willing to give up for the perfect job. Like many others, my Master’s has served as a junction in my career progression — pretty much totally unrelated to the five years of work experience that preceded it and the undergraduate education that preceded that, I consider this degree as a fresh start, a second chance to make a career out of something I love, a tool that I can use, along with the foundation I’ve built thus far, to remold my career moving forward. And it all started with a little bit of passion: I found a field of study that intrigued me, fit well with my ethos and overall career vision, and that I felt I could devote my career to in the context of contemporary global trends and requirements. From that point on, my passion grew.

The passion that moved me to pursue a Master’s degree is the same one that helped me to (perhaps foolishly) justify turning down job offers because they were based solely on my work experience rather than my postgraduate education. Albeit hidden under a stack of time passed and near misses with seemingly perfect opportunities, this passion pops out occasionally in the form of a rejuvenated sense of motivation or an idea, if only to remind me that it’s still there. In the time since graduation, I’ve gone from all passion to sporadic passion, and I have reflected on this quite a bit.

While my experience is undoubtedly skewed by the fact that I am in a fortunate enough situation that has allowed me the luxury to hold out and wait for a suitable job, the journey has taught me that passion and realism are not mutually exclusive. As best you can, it is important to try maintaining a balance between the two. Establishing a career can often feel like a perpetual stand-off between doing something you are passionate about and something that simply pays the bills; that said, it is important to remind oneself that the hands we are dealt often fail to coincide with our predetermined vision and the goals we have set out for ourselves.

Going against the grain is often inevitable.