Progression Does Not End At Graduation

I walk really fast. I mean, there might be cultures in the world where the average walking speed is faster than mine, but at least in the U.S. and Japan, you could say I set my pace with posthaste.

It doesn’t help that I’m a broad-shouldered, 200-pound dude – but at least my years of DDR addiction have enabled me to somewhat gracefully dance through crowds without much shoulder jostling.

However, my walking speed today isn’t nearly what it was during my first couple years of college. During my academic years, the only apt description for my style of walking was “booking it” – pun intended.

Why? Well, you see, I had this irrational idea that I had to achieve ALL THE THINGS.

do all the things

I’m a pretty goal-oriented person, as you might know, and during my first couple years of college I thought I basically had to achieve everything before I graduated.

In my mind, once I crossed the stage, framed my degree, and got a job, that was it. The buck stopped there.

Of course, I didn’t truly believe that – I knew there was ample opportunity to advance, get promoted, keep learning, etc. I mean, that’s obvious, right? College isn’t the only place to learn and grow… right?

Well, duh. That’s obvious when you think about it. The only problem was… part of me just didn’t believe it.

Even though I knew that my college years weren’t the only years I could dedicate to progression, I felt compelled to treat them that way.

So I overextended. I heaped obligations on myself – clubs, committees, skill goals – anything I thought could make my resume look amazing and set me apart from the pack.

In a way, this was sort of a good thing; it was certainly better than adopting the harmful mindset that simply being in college would automatically guarantee me a ticket to the good life. I was hustling, and definitely making progress.

But I was also spending a lot of time doing things I didn’t really want to do. I signed up for lots of things only for their perceived professional value – even if they didn’t really match up with my goals.

Here’s an example: During my sophomore year, my academic advisor invited me to be part of the school’s “Academic Standards Committee”.

My amazingly, stupendously fun job on this committee was… hearing out application for reinstatement from students who had failed college and been kicked out.

Woo-hooooooooooo.

Now, on one hand, serving on this committee gave me something to put on my resume. It also gave me face time with some of the college’s professors and administrators.

On the other time, it was probably a huge waste of my time – time I could have spent doing things that would have actually helped me achieve my goals. Time I could have spent building relationships with professors in ways that actually showed them my interests and talents.

As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in this mindset. A lot of ambitious, goal-oriented people have trouble seeing things in the perspective of the long run. A lot of us think we have to do everything right now.

While hiking in the woods with a 40-pound weight strapped to my chest the other day (so I can be like Goku, duh) I was listening to The Fizzle Show, one of my favorite podcasts.

In this particular episode, Chase (one of the hosts) brought up a great quote by venture capitalist Brad Feld:

“The most challenging thing for a young entrepreneur is to think long-term. When you are 22 years old, it’s hard to think in 22-year increments since that’s as long as you’ve been alive. But it’s really important to view your life as an entrepreneur as a long journey that consists of many short-term cycles.”

This really opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t alone in thinking this way.

I think there are a couple reasons we young, ambitious types have a hard time thinking about things in the long-term.

One, we can only look back maybe 8-10 years. Sure, we’ve been alive for 20 or 22 or whatever, but a lot of it was goofing off as a child. A relatively small amount of each of our lives has actually been spent working, setting goals, and deliberately trying to define who we are.

Second is that we’ve got this lingering societal concept of “job security”.

It certainly isn’t the truth anymore, but our culture is still somewhat dependent on the whole “Do well in school, go to a good college, and you’ll have a stable job” mindset.

I believe this mindset makes it easy for many people to rest on their laurels once they’ve gotten their “stable job”.

As a result, I grew up seeing lots of people – whether in real life or depicted in media – who kind of just… exist. They go to their jobs, do what’s expected of them, and then come home to relax.

As Loverboy says:

“Everybody’s working for the weekend!”

So, even though I consciously knew I had every opportunity to keep progressing after college, I got this subconscious idea in my head that everything after graduation day would be kinda… same-y.

Day after day, go to work, come home, watch TV. Grill on the weekends, take a vacation once a year, and don’t complain about it.

I got it into my 19-year-old head that I needed to achieve every goal right now, before I graduated and a never-ending hell of:

“Corporate accounts payable Nina speaking, just a moment. Corporate accounts payable Nina speaking, just a moment…”

…hit me right in the face.

Again, I knew I wasn’t assigned to this fate, but I still felt like it was coming if I didn’t achieve everything fast enough.

Well, now college is over. I’ve been out for a little over six months now. And you know what?

I didn’t achieve everything. I’d like to think I did a good amount – I did pay off my debt, build this blog into a business, and achieve some of my travel goals.

Still, my list was unfinished when I walked across the stage and shook the dean’s hand. I’m still not fluent in Japanese. I still haven’t written a book. There a lots of things on my Impossible List still left without a strikethrough on them.

And the crazy thing is… I wasn’t hit with an irresistible urge to rest on my laurels after graduating. I’m not facing a never-ending torrent of day-after-day drudgery. I’m certainly not coming home every night and just vegging out.

As it was in school, so it still is in the real world: There are still things I have yet to achieve, and I must make a conscious choice to work on achieving those things.

And I will. I always will.

Today, I walk a little bit slower. Still faster than most, mind you – but I’m not in such a hurry any more.

Why?

Because I’m not working for the weekend. The weekend is just another two days of the week.

Just like on the other five, I’ll be using those two days to work towards my goals. Towards learning ever more. Towards becoming better. Towards helping others and loving those around me.

Of course I’ll take time to relax and enjoy myself. But that time isn’t a respite from the never-ending drudgery of zero progression. It’s simply enjoying life.

And while I enjoy life, I’ll keep progressing – even now, when the classes have ended and all the choices are up to me.

So should you.

photos: climber

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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7 Comments on "Progression Does Not End At Graduation"

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Simone

I’m still working on this one! Graduated in May, just started my first “real person” job with benefits, just got my first student loan bill (if only I found your site sooner!)… I still have a part-time job as well, so my schedule is typically “Half hour commute, work, half hour commute, work out, cook dinner, relax, sleep, repeat” with the occasional “work at job #2” instead of work out.

The weekends have a lot of errands, grocery shopping, working at that second job, trying to spend time with friends and family — and I’m finding myself in that rut of “When can I take a vacation? When will it be Sunday, my one day ‘off’?”

I want to continue learning Chinese and Spanish, I want to add running to my crossfit routine, I want to learn Adobe Illustrator and web design, I want to pursue fitness/nutrition education… “ALL THE THINGS” indeed! But by the time I’ve eaten dinner it’s 8-10pm, and that’s not a good time for me to tackle a new project.

Maybe I’ll just have to recognize that slow progress is still progress, and keep working at that whole ‘patience’ thing. 🙂

Devin Cairns

Great article Thomas and well written! Your posts keep getting better and better. I completely agree with you. The learning never ever stops at any major point in life. I know your a fan of Jim Rohn from reading past posts I am as well. One of the many awesome quotes of his..”Without the sense of urgency, desire loses its value.” – Jim Rohn

Everyone needs to enjoy life a little along the way. Stay hungry, stay foolish brother!

Trevor W

That Brad Feld quote was a doozy. We met once at a dinner party when I was around age 12 or so, and hearing his story made me realize there are no rules to life except the ones you make.

Another solid article.

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