Not too long before graduation, I lay in my room, reflecting on how my food, school and my apartment was paid for with money that doesn’t even exist—loans. I had been living in a fantasy world for four years. None of it seemed real because I wasn’t yet monetarily supporting my living expenses. I sat up and imagined holding a 9-to-5 job to keep this apartment, this city, and keep my material possessions upon graduation.
While reflecting on this, I asked myself if I valued my apartment, if I valued my possessions, and if I valued living in a city. Was I willing to work a full-time office job to uphold these luxuries? When it came down to it, I absolutely did not find any value in working just to uphold any of those things. It was an easy decision to make, but now what?
A January report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity found that “about 48 percent of employed US college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests requires less than a four-year college education.” That number included 37 percent in jobs requiring no more than a high school diploma. According to one Pew Research Center report, “a record one in five households now owe student loan debt.” It’s apparent that college students are not left with many obvious options. You get a degree, to maybe get a job, to make a living and try to pay off your loans—that’s it. A flow chart on Shareable explains this phenomenon further. I thought, “There HAS to be another way.”
To allow ease of transition is to identify personal life values. If it helps, make a list of your core values. Knowing your values will help shape the path you take. It begins to make things a lot clearer for you, college graduate, to really make a plan. Your values will turn into aspirations and dreams, aspirations and dreams will turn into goals, and in-between is the fun part. A few of my values can be summed up in one quote by Ghandi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world."
When talking about skills, let’s face it: many people tend to limit their skills to their degree. However, growing up in the digital era and being fresh out of college is advantageous. Every post-college individual can write, effectively use social media, speak publicly, critically think, and problem-solve. Add this to the plethora of skills gained through your major and any hobbies you have. Brainstorm a list of every skill you can think of to help you craft your dream.
Skills + Values + Goals = Success
As you begin to explore your post-college opportunities, remember it’s just a fun game to play. Just like school, it’s a test for us to figure out how we are most happy so we can enjoy life to the fullest. Explore some interesting things you can do after college to fully utilize your values, strengths, opportunities, passions, and resources.
Ask a Friend
If you decide that getting a job to pay your bills is the first road you want to take, reach out to your employed and recently graduated friends or colleagues to see if they can refer you for a position. If the job isn’t interesting, do what you can to lower expenses and save so you can have the freedom to create a new adventure for yourself.
Work in Nature
On the other hand; being in nature, traveling, learning survival skills, and wilderness exploration could also define your immediate future. Apply to work for the National Park Service, which offers opportunities in 379 national parks. Emily Lawlor, college graduate, WWOOFed on almost 20 farms while taking the summer to work in different national parks all over the United States as a wilderness ranger or trail worker. Emily explains her passion of experiential living and learning: “I have valued experience as the most influential learning tool in my life.”
Emily Lawlor hiking the Continental Divide Trail, March 25, 2013. (Photo: Anthony Aiuppa)
WWOOFing allows anyone to securely explore the globe through experiential learning on sustainable farms by trading a full day of work for food and accommodation. WWOOFing is a viable way to spend a week, a month, a summer, or a year or more learning, trading time, and traveling. Andrew Fair, an experienced WWOOFer in Italy, offers his words of WWOOFing wisdom: “It changed me in ways I can't explain, forcing me to take a step back and reevaluate everything I believed to be true, both about myself and the world.”
Volunteers work in the garden at Emerald Village Organization in November, 2012. (Photo: Love Bus Community)
Become an Entrepreneur
Maybe you’re the type of person who desires to be your own boss, start a revolution, or change a paradigm within an industry. It could be your calling to pursue a business venture. Check out Under 30 CEO for excellent tools for young entrepreneurs, or join the Under30Experience community, to meet other ambitious entrepreneurs. These pioneers have learned to break away from their comfort zone, get creative, and meet potential business partners or launch projects.
Start an EcoVillage
Rally up a group of forward-thinking, business-minded, garden and green innovation-savvy people to start an EcoVillage. An EcoVillage is “a model for a truly sustainable community. It’s an intentional village and farm created by people who want to acquire a better quality of life by holistically integrating innovative ecological, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of sustainability,” says Ecotivity. To start an EcoVillage, look at land to purchase and split the cost with a group of people. Activated Villages is an organization created to help groups of people find and learn how to purchase land to start an EcoVillage.
Sieben Linden EcoVillage in Germany held three kinds of meetings: feeling meetings, thinking or “idea” meetings, and business meetings. (Photo: EcoVillage Newsletter)
Join or Volunteer at an EcoVillage
Join an EcoVillage and create a cottage industry that benefits you and the village. Through IC Directory and Ecotivity, you can find opportunities for exchanging, volunteering, renting, or buying in at an EcoVillage. A few examples of cottage industries are food production, holding workshops, tinctures, and art or other natural products. Like WWOOFing, you can often exchange services from a wide range of trades like gardening, land work, natural building, marketing, event planning, and IT. This is a wonderful way to create your own job and live an experiential and wholesome lifestyle.
Work overseas in a fun and collaborative way by lending your time to help out with disaster relief or social work. Burners Without Borders (BWB) began spontaneously as a collection of people who instinctively met gaping needs where traditional societal systems clearly failed after Hurricane Katrina. Now BWB is a community-led, grassroots group that encourages innovative, civic participation and creates positive local change. Nick Heyming, a three-year volunteer with BWB, explains: “I learned during my disaster relief experiences that it’s not just about how many houses you build, or how many gardens you plant. The most valuable part was the exchange with other volunteers, with the local people, and the skills and knowledge that is shared. I feel like those types of experiences are much more accessible than most recent grads are aware of, and much more valuable than they would expect."
Burners Without Borders in Pisco, Peru in 2010. (Photo: Ignite Me)
Get Paid to Roadtrip!
Applications are open now to “Hit the Road,” through Road Trip Nation’s program, that empowers you to define your own road in life instead of traveling down someone else's. Travel in a Green RV to interview inspiring leaders from all walks of life who have defined success in their own terms, and people who wake up and love what they do every day. Also, look into getting sponsored to travel, or create an influential social media presence around your travels for income. Mike’s Road Trip is a great example of a marketing professional who took road tripping to the next level.
Roadtrip Nation’s Green RV. (Photo: Steve Hargadon)
We live in exciting times. The possibilities abound as to what we can accomplish in this era. Dream big, take risks, follow your heart, and don’t let student debt burden you: everyone has it. Whichever path you take, whether it is EcoVillages or disaster relief work, starting your own business or getting sponsored to travel, the experiences you will have are priceless. Collaborating on radical projects with others, traveling, and experiential learning will help you grow and take you farther in life than you can ever imagine.