When I was in college, I’ll admit, I was idealistic. Armed with knowledge about the inequities in society, I was determined to make a change! The ‘real world’ seemed like my oyster–an open playing field where I could make a lasting impression. College nor my parents could prepare me for the reality of living and working in America. As the theme song in Malcolm in the Middle goes, “Life is Unfair.”
Behold, 5 truths I’ve discovered post graduation:
1. Having a great education is important; being connected and/or wealthy is just as important.
I’ll never forget my days of slaving away for New York Magazine right after graduation, making $5.15 an hour while opening mail and begging for work. After 3 months at my internship, I had a few reporting credits up my sleeve, but wasn’t that much closer to having a job. But then, one night while groveling over emails, I overheard a senior editor talking about a potential job candidate, saying, “He’s just a young kid out of college who needs a gig.” After listening a bit more intently, I realized that the editor was talking about one of my colleagues from Harvard (who happened to be friends with the new owner’s son). Yes, this happened. A white man with the same degree, who even lived in the same house as I did at Harvard was about to get a job on the spot, while I had actually put in the work to get the same job. Had he interned at the magazine a day in his life? No. But he was friends with the boss’s son. He ended up being hired, while I was eventually told to kick rocks. It happens all the time.
Thankfully, because I went to Harvard, I was able to cozy up to the boss after my internship, and a lot of the editors who once scowled at me, now took a closer look at what I was doing (this one editor who legit frowned at me the hardest, suddenly sent me an email, saying he had heard that I was a promising writer). It was too little too late, and honestly, though the boss’s son was nice, he wasn’t my real friend. Our bond wasn’t strong enough for him to get me a job, as he had done for his buddy.
Humans are humans and will cherish that familiar connection over anything else. “Oh this is Jan’s friend” trumps “This person really wants the job and is qualified to do it.” Not to say Jan’s friend is unqualified, just that being connected definitely moves your resume to the top of the pile. With that said, if you’re not born connected, get connected. In the past few days, I’ve seen so many Delta’s and AKA’s throwing up their signs at events that I wished I had pledged. If you’re not born with a silver spoon in your mouth, make connections. Join a sorority or club, heck go to the right school. You can’t force connections, but throw your hat in the ring for opportunities to help increase your network (and net worth).
2. You Will Be the Only Black Person in Many Rooms
This one really threw me for a loop. A lot of my friends recount similar tales of being the only black person in a situation (and many of us are leading meetings where some seem to think we’re the secretary). Trump is President. America is not as forward thinking as you would think. You’d be surprised how many boardrooms are devoid of brown, even in this day and age. Prepare yourself to be the voice of your race (it’s a harrowing task, but do your best).
3. Even If You “Do All the Right Things” Don’t Bank on Instant Success
Every career path has ups and downs, highs and lows. I was having lunch with a young woman today who at one point was sleeping in her car after being fired from her first job (I could relate, I once slept on a tub). She said that she told herself, “I have two degrees, I’m smart and plucky, how did life end up this way?” Those who are uber educated, especially in creative fields, still have to pay their dues. Your career is not handed to you, you have to create it.
That said, once you find your groove, being educated and having a work ethic is of utmost importance. Even now, when I have to do a sponsored post, for example, it feels like homework. I’m currently working on a project that is equivalent to a final paper. But now, the reward is that you get paid, not that you get an A. Skills in school do translate over into the work world. You have to find your footing, then learn how to apply your schooling.
4. The World is Still Racist & Sexist; Stay Strong Mentally And Know Who You Are
Here’s what you won’t read in any manual in school: the world still battles racism and sexism.
Just this past weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina (recap to come), two men (one white, one black) were disrespectful and rude to me. My thought process is always, “Bless them, they don’t know who they’re dealing with. One day they will.” As a woman, especially a black woman, you have to swallow a lot of shit and smile. Don’t let other people’s low estimation of you negatively affect your self esteem. Know who you are, fix your crown, and keep striving for your goals, whatever they may be.
5. Nothing Can Stop You
Which brings me to my final point. Life is difficult outside the idyllic University system. A lot of traits, stereotypes, and beliefs you thought humans were too dumb to still ascribe to, exist. There is no sugar coating it. But while we all live in Trump’s America, we also live in America, where seeds of dreams are planted in fertile soil and grow into magnificent trees.
Yes, nepotism, racism, and sexism exists in the world, but you can get past it. You can be the exception to the rule, but first you have to be exceptional. So, Do your best in school. Join whatever social group tickles your fancy. Understand the challenges well in advance and prepare yourself, mentally and emotionally for all that there is out there.
Then, go get ’em.
Love & Light,
** What else do you wish your parents had told you about the Real World?
***I wonder if my life would have taken a different path if I had today’s hair and wardrobe back in the day? This and more to ponder.