10 things I wish I'd known when I graduated


Just recently, Facebook took me down memory lane and reminded me that it’s now been five years since I graduated – and I cannot believe where the time has gone. As a graduate, it’s all too easy to resent the fact that you haven’t achieved everything you thought you would. Sound like you? In reality you’re probably doing just fine. It’s normal to feel like you’re struggling, and many people don’t land on their feet. And sometimes, it’s character building – and therefore for the best. Here are 10 things I wish I had known about life after university when I graduated.

1. It doesn’t matter what your friends are doing

Stop stressing over what so-and-so from your English seminar is doing down in London, or worrying that you’ll never make as much money as your best friend. We each have our own paths, and they won’t be the same. At university, I let people on my course put me down for having different goals – I wish I had known at the time that my ideas weren’t wrong.

2. You will, however, probably need to live with friends

Think shared living stops when you graduate? Unless you land a job paying millions (OK, slight exaggeration), you’re probably going to need to live in a shared house or flat. It’s alright though – living in student accommodation will have you perfectly prepared for this situation. It could be worse! You could have to live with your parents again! Just kidding, you’ll probably have to do that as a graduate at some point, too.

3. Your dream job may not actually be your dream job

Don't work at a job that you hate just because you always thought that’s what you wanted to do. By all means, give it your best shot – but life’s too short, and you’ve got nothing to prove.

4. “Cultural fit” in the workplace is important

Before I graduated, I don’t think I had ever heard the term “cultural fit” in my entire life. That soon changed a month after graduation, when after a trial with a company at a job I was sure I would get, I was told that I wasn’t a “cultural fit”. I was disappointed because I didn’t really get what that meant until landing my first full time role in digital marketing (where, on day one, they were blasting emo music and taking me to Nando’s – the vibe was seriously more “me”).

5. You’ll automatically start behaving like an adult

Remember at university how annoyed you would get if your tutor got on your case? Life after graduation doesn’t always have that, so you have to organise yourself and get yourself straight. This is great in lots of ways – you’ll probably soon find a routine. But it’s up to you to start going to bed earlier and making sure you get to work on time. This will be easy if you’re excited about what you’re doing.

6. Happiness is more important than money

My number one piece of advice is that you shouldn’t set your goals based on financial targets, but based on your happiness instead. I struggle with mental health and it’s meant having to leave some pretty awesome jobs. I remember going to an interview once, and they asked me where I wanted to be in five years. I said “happy”. Some of my friends think I’m crazy, but while you need enough to keep you comfortable, money isn’t everything.

7. Travelling is such a great use of your time

OK, so this is largely money-dependent, but there are actually ways to work and travel at the same time! You probably won’t have many ties when you graduate, so it could be the perfect time to move abroad or go adventuring. I was nervous about going, but when I did my Working Holiday in Australia, it really gave me the travel bug. 30 countries later, I don’t regret a thing! If travelling is looking unlikely right now, don’t stress. In the real world, UK employers generally give you at least four weeks' holiday – and you won’t have to turn down a dream trip because of exams!

8. You get to decide your own future

One of the most surprising realisations I’ve made since graduating is decided that doing the “done thing” just doesn’t always work for me. I thought that everyone was supposed to get a 9-5 and settle down and let that be that. This is awesome for some, but I didn’t know there was any other way until I explored my possibilities. Liberty Living gave me my “big break” in freelance writing, and over the years, there have been several periods where I’ve written for a range of clients full time. It’s hard, but there’s SO much to be said for freedom and independence.

9. Doing your own taxes SUCKS

There are a lot of things that university prepares you for… practical stuff like doing a tax return is not one of them! If you’re self-employed or your income is in any way “complicated”, you’ll have to learn how to do this yourself. But practice makes perfect, so it's not all bad!

10. Life is actually better after you graduate

There. I said it. This won’t be true for everyone, but for me, it definitely was. Have things turned out the way I thought they would? Absolutely not. But I’ve gone to places I never imagined, I’m writing for a living, and while not everything has worked out as I thought it would, I’ve been able to follow my own path.