College Graduates: It's You Against The World

by Sean Levinson

Think about how many times you have heard the expression “It’s me against the world.” It seems unrealistic and cliché, but when it comes to entering the workforce after college, nothing could be more true in terms of how unbelievably hard it is to keep your head up when it seems like everyone you talk to wants you to fail.

When I graduated from college five years ago, a lot of people told me that there would be a myriad of obstacles looking to knock me off the path to success. I knew that I had a lot of competition vying for the same jobs that I wanted and I knew that it was going to be a while before any respectable companies granted me an interview. What I wasn’t aware of, however, was just how overwhelmingly crushing the opposition that wants you to give up and quit truly is.

The opposition is every person that gives you the impression, either blatantly or subtly, that you will fail at reaching your dream. You can call them haters, competitors or just plain old pessimists. They will tell you that you suck, that you’ve got zero talent and you don’t belong in the field you want to work in.

They won’t take your dreams seriously and they will scoff at your attempts to make them a reality. The worst part is, they cannot be silenced and no, they will never, ever give up.

You are going to meet so many people with an attitude like this that it won’t be long before you’re convinced that the entire world as you know it doesn’t want you to succeed.

Whatever field you want to work in will be chock full of people who won’t believe that you have what it takes to make it, and these are the type of people you’ll encounter most frequently after college. Whether it’s in an interview, online forum or innocent social gathering, you are going to talk to a frightening amount of people who you wished did not exist because of how incredibly worthless they made you feel.

They will base their opinions on a number of things, but their main criteria will be your work. Not your work ethic or how hard you tried, but the unsatisfactory result that you at first thought showed promise and potential. The opposition will tell you that your idea of impressive work is the furthest thing from what the people you want to please actually want to see.

The work that you produce early on will be scrutinized, criticized and ultimately insulted as an embarrassment to your chosen profession. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a designer, writer or salesman. Your early work efforts will yield a result and a sh*tload of people are going to tell you it sucks and that nobody in his or her right mind would disagree.

I’ll stop speaking in generalities and get into specifics. At least one of the first four or five job interviews you go on will leave you scarred and humiliated. The person interviewing you will seem like one of the meanest people you’ve ever met because whatever special “edge” he or she is looking for, you simply will not have and you will have no idea what you have to do to obtain it.

Then you’ll start talking to some seemingly good-natured peers and ask them what they think of your work, your work experience and your chances for success. A great deal, if not the majority of them, probably want the same thing you do but regardless of their goals, their reaction to what you have presented them will give you the notion that you do not have the necessary skills or knowledge of the business to get the kind of job you want.

Depressed yet? Are you discouraged, afraid and ready to be ashamed of your shallow attempts to show the outside world that you know your stuff? Welcome to life after college. Now it’s time for you to learn why as harrowing of an experience these first few years will be, these haters are undeniably essential for your quest to success.

Chances are, someone has already told you that one of the key requirements for being good at any job is having thick skin. Well, without the opposition, your skin would be as thin as Mila Kunis before awards season.

The only way you’ll ever be able to ignore the emotions the opposition ignites and use its input as motivation to work harder is by having a lot of people tell you that you suck over and over again. After your work and desire to succeed get consecutively insulted for months or years on end, you will learn to expect this feedback and realize that it just naturally comes with the process of building a following.

Having thick skin means not letting criticism hurt your feelings and these negative feelings will shrink more and more once your mind, body and soul understand that not letting people who want to hurt you get what they want is the essence of becoming a master of your craft.

People who are truly good at what they do learned to be that good by only using negative criticism to their advantage. They didn’t quit because they realized that being treated like a loser efficiently motivated them to prove the opposition wrong, to keep re-inventing themselves and their work to change this collective opinion. Will you ever please this collective opinion to the point where it vanishes completely? That depends. Do you ever want to stop figuring out new ways to get better at what you do?

When I graduated from college, I wish that somebody had told me that learning to get good at something would be such a painful, painful experience. It hurts like hell to get put down, especially by so many people. You just have to remember that it will only be a matter of time before you accept that this pain is the agent of change and the different people you evolve into will get hurt less and less.

Think of the initial force of the opposition as a hazing period, a necessary stage that anyone pursuing a career needs to go through to prove that a chorus of hate and defeat is not powerful enough to kill your dreams. This stage will seem endless, illogical and unbearably painful but that’s just because, like so many other stages of life, you aren’t used to it yet.