Photo by Candré Mandawe

This Is The Best Post-Graduate Advice I Can Possibly Ever Give You

A personal lesson in rapidly developing experience.

When I first graduated college 10 years ago, as you might imagine, I had a much different view of the world.

Back then, I thought that simply being given that magical piece of paper—I had earned a bachelor’s degree in Information Sciences and Technology, after all—meant that I was all but guaranteed a well-paying job.

$70,000 a year was my official target. That’s the figure I had pegged for myself as a post-graduate starting salary, based on a little research into the median starting salaries of the IT consulting positions in which I felt qualified.

Looking back now, 22-year-old me seemed mighty naive…

The truth is, I might have actually come close to hitting that starting mark, had I maintained better awareness and kept all my ducks in a row. Instead, I coasted through school barely having read a book, and I was extremely ignorant when it came to the then-current state of the US economy.

Long story short, as I graduated in May 2008, The Great Recession was ramping up full-force, and unemployment peaked at 10%, making it very difficult for me to land even the most entry-level of jobs.

Still relatively oblivious at the onset of all this, I remember how apathetic I was at just the thought of “joining the workforce” to begin with. The way I saw it, I was about to embark on a 40-year journey, but not a fun one — one in which I would work day-in and day-out, for the same company, doing things I wouldn’t really enjoy, Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 (except holidays).

No, my initial plan upon graduating was actually to take one last summer to myself, before biting the bullet and starting the career I just described.

That summer turned into two whole years, the second half of which was spent actively pursuing entry-level work, unsuccessfully. I drove to neighboring cities like Pittsburgh and even as far as Reston and McLean, interviewing, expensing gas mileage, and staying overnight in local hotels, all to no avail.

And that’s when I first realized the sheer power of experience.

Photo by Nick Fewings

Lesson 1: You Can Forge Your Own Path Forward

I found myself wrapped up in a paradoxical dilemma: I needed relevant experience to have any hopes of landing such a competitive (there were out-of-work people twice my age vying for some of these positions) job, but I couldn’t get any relevant experience without one.

I looked at my resumé in pure disgust and said, “Fuck this. I need more.”

All those talks of extracurricular activities, apprenticeships, and after-school clubs suddenly came flooding back. But all this did was anger me even more.

Luckily for me, social media was also fast on the rise at the time.

Rather than listing that summer “IT internship” I had at my former high school (where I basically just cleaned up entire labs and installed a bunch of new computers), I decided to set out and create a new resumé of my own.

The first thing I did was start a blog, which you read about here. I also worked on actively growing my presence on Twitter and LinkedIn. Add those things up and, while small, it enabled me to land a part-time staff writer position for MakeUseOf.com — a popular tech blog I had been following at the time.

Suddenly, I had an actual brand I could list on my resumé. Never mind the fact that it was part-time — I was a staff writer for an online publication serving some 20 million page views each and every month!

Now that I had manufactured some of my own experience, I could return to the job-hunting pool feeling much more confident I could land a position.

Photo by Colton Duke

Lesson 2: You Can Live On Less Than You Think

So, here we are. The next part of this story, if you’re following intently, should lead us to the part where I landed a comfortable $70,000 a year gig… right?

Well, not exactly. By this point in my journey, I had stopped fantasizing about that figure and started thinking about what I actually did want to do for the rest of my life. Suddenly, without cause, I abandoned the whole notion of needing to suck it up and take a position I wouldn’t enjoy for 40 or so years.

What happened was that in the process of forging my own path forward, I happened to discover my true calling in marketing and social media.

Specifically, I happened across a character many of you now know simply as GaryVee.

Long story short, I discovered Gary, read his book Crush It! (and, remember, I barely ever used to read books), watched his keynotes, followed and interacted with him on social, and, ultimately, decided I wanted to try and work for him in any way possible.

I wrote Gary and his team an email, passionately requesting an opportunity to join their team — subsequently pointing to my prior experience and newfound body of work on social media — and I got a reply back saying that they weren’t currently hiring, but were in need of an intern.

The position was unpaid and it was based in New York City. I said yes without a moment’s hesitation.

After spending the next 60 days (or, all I could afford at the time) busting my ass trying to impress and get to know everybody on the team, I was offered a position at the young startup company, starting at $30,000 a year.

Sure, it wasn’t the $70,000 I imagined I’d be making fresh out of college (in fact, it was a full two years later), but I couldn’t tell you how excited I was about having received (earned) this opportunity.

And the experience I’d gain over the next 7 years would be nothing short of priceless.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM

Lesson 3: Experience Can Take You Anywhere

Taking that initial low-paying job quite literally changed my life in so many ways. Over the next several years, the company would grow to include over 800 more people and open offices in at least 4 new locations.

I went on to work with over 50 different globally recognized brands, across numerous departments, in which I changed job titles 7 times including 4 promotions.

And, I would even go on to meet my lovely girlfriend of now two years at the company.

By being willing to forego a potentially large sum of money in order to rapidly gain experience, I now have so many stories to tell that I don’t even know what to put (squeeze) onto my resumé.

But the point of this story isn’t to brag about how far I’ve come or to highlight any of my past successes — it’s to show you that you can do this stuff too.

You see, what I’ve come to realize is that with the right level of experience, you can find opportunities anywhere.

Hell, the main reason most of us even go to college to begin with (aside from getting that magical piece of paper) is because of the experience. It’s also why we like to study abroad, go to festivals, and try something new.

At some point in our lives, we all learn about opportunity cost —the benefits an individual misses out on when choosing one alternative over another.

Well, opportunity cost is real, my friends.

The time you could be spending in a decently-paying, yet soul-sucking job could (and, as I believe I’ve successfully argued here, should) otherwise be spent hustling in a youthful, fast-paced environment and culture where you get to experience more things in a single year than most do in a lifetime.

So, my best post-graduate advice to you is simply this: go for it.

Whatever that means to you — spending that year backpacking across Europe, interning at a fledgling startup in a new city — if your heart’s in it, just do it. Find a way.

They say our generation prioritizes experiences over material things.

Why do you think that is? My answer: because when your life is over, you can’t take your material things with you.

Develop experience at all costs. Opportunities will come. I promise.