First job might be a grind, Dear Graduates, but it gets better

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President Obama delivered the commencement address at Rutgers University in New Jersey on Sunday. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) ORG XMIT: NJME111

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It’s May, time for college commencement speeches full of lofty thoughts and unsolicited advice.

Commencement used to be a pretty mundane event, but not anymore. At many graduations, the speeches will be delivered by very prominent people. (This is partly to divert graduates and their parents from thinking about how much they owe after four – or more – years of higher education.)


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The president and first lady both have spoken to graduates this season. Everyone from Huffington Post’s namesake Arianna Huffington, filmmaker Spike Lee and Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” is addressing college grads this spring, according to

There’ll be a lot of talk about being fearless, taking risks and following one’s dreams. All sorts of feel-good words of wisdom to send the grads out to take on the world.

But if you ask me, here’s what someone should tell them: don’t be surprised if you get to that first job and find yourself wondering, is this all there is?

The answer is yes, and no.

That first full-time job after college can be a letdown for many graduates. They’ve just spent all this time and money to get to their careers. They’ve been in classrooms hearing about their future work through rose-colored glasses. Then they reach their “dream job” only to find themselves in a windowless cubicle facing a computer screen day after day.

We’re so worried about self-esteem that very often we go overboard with praise. So with all they’ve been told about themselves and their abilities, a lot of grads probably are expecting to start work on a Monday and achieve world peace or cure cancer by that Wednesday. That’s not how things turn out.

We live in a time where the expectation is that everything has to be awesome all the time. Again, that, too, isn’t how the work world operates. Despite what commencement speakers say, very often your boss doesn’t give a hoot about you thinking outside the box; she just wants the task done. Now.

I worry the current crop of grads will think the grind of their first job means they aren’t cut out for that work. That’s not it at all. More than likely they just have to get used to the rhythm of the work world. I’ve spent my career in one of the most exciting fields around, but in that first job, I spent a lot of time rewriting press releases. Boring!

Work is like eating an artichoke: you have to peel your way through the mundane to get to the good part. While the movie “Spotlight” had a grim topic, I loved that it showed that to write those award-winning news stories the reporters involved had to do so much grunt work: digging through old newspapers, knocking on the doors of unwilling interview subjects, researching court records. None of that is “awesome,” but later the results are.

At a job, employees have to work their way up even on the smallest of details. I once asked someone who had to travel to Tampa in the stifling heat of July why he didn’t ever give his presentations there in January or February. His response: “That’s when my boss goes.”

Those first jobs might not be anything like what they were expecting, but to the new grads I’d say hang in there. It’ll get better.

Maybe that wouldn’t cut it on the commencement talk circuit, but it sure is reality.


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