What should I do when I graduate?

Logo A few weeks ago I was contacted by William Channer who runs a site called Dorm Room Tycoon.  He interviews people and puts up the podcasts for others to hear and learn from.  It was great talking to him.  He asked me to write a few things down for him prior to posting the podcast.  It isn't so different from what I have been asked before from young people who are in college or about to graduate. My advice is always the same. 

I know that the job market is super tight right now but I still believe in my convictions.  My answer was simple. "Follow your passions. If there is an area that you really want to work in then pursue that until you find a job in that area and preferably go work in a start-up. Be true to yourself. Work hard, play hard and stay focused on finding the opportunity that makes you happy be it starting a business, working in a start-up or taking time off to figure it out."

There is a reason I said that because I ended up in a job path when I was younger that I didn't love.  That is probably one of the reasons that I got off the train for awhile when we moved to the suburbs when the girls were 3 and 1.  Josh hasn't even made an appearance yet.  I didn't love what I was doing.  In many ways, maybe I have always been looking for what to do when I grow up.

After jumping ship from Macys I found myself working in the Garment center, I wasn't so sure I had found my calling as I went through a few different jobs at that time of my life.  When I was at Macys one of the jobs I had was that I ran the cosmetics department in Kings Plaza, Brooklyn.  It was there that I started thinking about possibly pursuing opportunities in the cosmetic industry.

At the time of this interview I was working in my first job in the garment center.  I worked for a family business that manufactured large sized womens clothing.  The guy who ran it managed the sales staff like they were 2 years old but my sales proved that I was a good hire so he almost let me be.  Regardless the job was incredibly boring and the environment was not somewhere that I saw myself staying for long so I looked for other opportunities. 

My first interview was with the man who ran Chanel cosmetics.  Pure luck and connections.  My father's old friend ran a large retail business in Philadelphia and set up the meeting.  I was thrilled and nervous at the same time.

We met at the Plaza for breakfast.  That was in the day when there were many power breakfasts taking place there.  I got there early and waited.  While waiting and pacing, the right heel of my pump broke off.  I was now 2" shorter on one side.  It is 9am, this guy is about to walk in any minute to meet me so
what's a girl to do?

I took the heel and shoe and attempted to cobble it together by going to the marble floor and trying to pound the heel back in.  He walks in, we shake hands and of course "his table" is in the back of the room.  Half way to the table my heel falls off.  I feign complete surprise and he doesn't even notice or care as I hobble my way back to breakfast.  I took this as a bad sign.

As the breakfast wrapped up, it was evident that this was not going to be the job for me.  However, I did not let up.  I wormed my way, again through a contact, into an interview with the woman overseeing Estee Lauder.

It was a great breakfast.  Loved her and the woman who worked with her.  I knew I would enjoy working with them.  We started to talk about what opportuniites were available and where I would start in the company. Then they told me what I would make.  My jaw dropped.  At that very moment I experienced what "golden handcuffs" meant. I couldn't afford to take that job.  I was making great money almost more than double than they were offering.  I wasn't loving the work yet walking away would not pay the rent.

I found myself in a job that I didn't like making enough money that my life style had changed significantly at every turn.  Perhaps if I had really thought about what space really got me excited then I would have started in a different industry and loved it at an age where I could afford to take the salary they were offering because I didn't know anything else.  Waiting all those years to pivot into another industry left me unable to afford to make the switch. 

A lesson learned that I can pass on today. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Rohan

    Thanks for sharing that, Joan. Sometimes, I think the issue is that you don’t really know what it is that you would like to do. And taking time off is not an option..

    1. Gotham Gal


      1. Rohan

        I realize I spelt your name wrong/short. Apologies!

  2. Steven

    I really like this topic – the first four words “what should I do” being important not only when you graduate but for the rest of your life as well. Many people have written on the topic (often as commencement speeches) and my two favorite (commencement speeches) were given at Kenyon college exactly seven years apart (I have no connection to Kenyon). The first is by David Foster Wallace whose talk was released posthumously as a small book called, “This Is Water”. I think you once mentioned you had not read any DFW and if that is still the case you might like to start with this short inspirational speech. You might enjoy a two second Q and A with DFW  that I found, in a word, amazing, to whet your DFW appetite:  http://roughfractals.blogsp…  But more to the point – and the reason for this comment – is that I would love to know what you think of the (second) Kenyon commencement  speech given this year by DFW’s friend, Jonathan Franzen, in which he addresses your question (and I suspect was “talking” to his old friend Dave Wallace). I am really interested in your take on the Franzen speech because he has a lot to say about tech and I just really wonder what tech people (such as you) make of what he has to say. I believe you did not care for Franzens last book but he is a real smart guy and a bird watcher (to be a serious bird watcher you have to be a deep thinker). His speech is provocative  – not sure what your take on it will be but I gotta believe you will not dismiss it out of hand. Here’s the link if you want to give it a whirl: http://roughfractals.blogsp…

    1. Gotham Gal

      Will listen. Enjoyed both of franzens last two books. Had a tough time with Wallace. I know they were good friends

      1. Steven

        Sorry, I miss remembered your take on Freedom which (looking back) I see you “devoured”. (It was my wife who wasn’t so enamored of it). Wallace’s non fiction is what gets most people started on the Wallace road – – A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again, for example, then for fiction his short story, “Good Old Neon”. Infinite Jest requires a lot of practice and lots of falls before you can ride that wave.  (if you want to learn how to surf it helps to start off paddle boarding at Louse Point before trying to freestyle at Ditch Plains).

  3. Horseypants

    Thank you for sharing that and being so candid about your experience. Esp. the part about “In many ways, maybe I have always been looking for what to do when I grow up.” because it rang like a bell for me. I’m in my forties, kids are in school full-time, and I want to do…something. I’ve been SAHM-ing for ten+ years now. It’s wonderful, but I’d sure like something (that word again) to motivate, inspire, and possibly even PAY. Anyway, I feel your ideas apply to “re-starters” as well.

    1. Gotham Gal

      absolutely applies to re-starters.

  4. Cami Singleton

    This post was extremely fascinating, particularly because I was looking for thoughts on this matter while.