I have to be honest: I don’t love graduation speeches. There are way too many cliches and puns. If I have to hear one more speech that starts with “the dictionary defines…” I’m going to barf. And let’s face it, no one is going to top Taylor Swift’s recent speech at NYU. So I’m not even going to go there. This is not a graduation speech.
But all that said, I remember how it felt to graduate. I remember when my tassel moved from the right to the left, and being hit with the weight of the question: what happens next?
After graduation, I spent the next couple of years hustling so hard that I had a pretty epic breakdown. But I won’t get into that here, because I want you to skip that part. I did learn a lot from the experience of burning out, but my learning curve was honestly pretty unpleasant, and I want to share everything that I learned the hard way, so that you don’t have to. So I want to tell you what I needed to hear at graduation. And it starts with superheroes.
I wanted to be Superwoman for as long as I can remember. Do it all. Have it all. Be it all.
If you’re like me, you probably looked up to some version of this Superman or Superwoman character growing up— and most of us still do as grown-ass adults. (Don’t believe me? Take a look around the next costume party you go to.)
But seriously, I get it. Superheroes, after all, do good work and look good doing it. I mean, how does Superwoman maintain that bouncy blowout and look so smoking hot while also saving the world every day?! And Superman gets punched in the face 23 hours of the day, and yet, his jaw remains a right angle. Who wouldn’t want to be a superhero?
But, for the longest time, I never really stopped to think about why I aspired to be the embodiment of Superwoman. Have you? Or do you, a powerful human being, just idolize superheroes because . . . you always have? Let’s think about it for a second.
The Superwoman origin story goes, more or less, like this: Superman started saving the world. Then he saved Superwoman. And, then, Superwoman went on to save the world, multiple times—all while strutting in sassy red boots and essentially underwear.
So, it’s basically a tale of a woman who was saved by a dude and then went right into saving everyone else. Never complaining. Never missing a beat. Is that truly who you want to be? Is that what you want to strive for?
I don’t. Not anymore.
The superhero narrative is all about saving everyone else; in essence, dropping everything and even putting his or her own well-being in danger at the slightest suggestion that they are needed. Sure, they perform incredible feats, but who they are and what they feel is largely a mystery. In real life that approach plays out like this: Being all things to all people means you are nothing to yourself. And therein lies the real danger.
What I want to be is a Super [space] Woman. That space in between is important. That space allows me to define, on my own terms, what being “super” means for me and my goals without the pressure and limitations that come with the make-believe one-word version.
I used to think that being super meant excelling in everything: my career, my personal life, and, yeah, having a rockin’ bod and the perfect outfit. But that ideal wasn’t heroic at all. In fact, it was destructive. The pursuit of being perfectly put together made everything, well, fall apart.
The superpower I was missing was the ability to take care of myself. Real Super Heroes are those who are dedicated to the pursuit of their own happiness, who decide what’s important to them and then makes time for it, who listen to what’s going on in their own heads and then deliberately and thoughtfully act on it.
A Super Woman is her own goddamn hero, who writes her own story and, when need be, saves Herself. Superwoman only exists in fiction. But Super Women exist in real life. It’s time to nix the idea that you have to be Superhuman. It’s time to become a Super Human.
Now, I know that you’re graduating into a very uncertain, and sometimes un-Super world, and it might feel like having a cape wouldn’t be the worst thing right now.
No one really knows which side is up in this job market, or this economy. You might be applying for a gig that was an office job three years ago, and is now completely remote. Maybe you aren’t working remote, and are wondering how you’re going to commute into the office when gas is $6 a gallon. You’re probably seeing the headlines that inflation is at 10%. I’m sure you sat next to someone in class who told you that crypto was going to the moon, and now it’s going to zero.
Every graduation generation has their shit. I graduated in the calm before what would become the recession. I think you’ll find, though, that weathering these types of storms is what allows us to earn our capes.
But here’s the good news: another difference between our story and Superman’s story is that you aren’t being launched into a new world all alone. You have your loved ones, and people like me— who don’t want you to make the same mistakes we did.
So as you get started making your way in the real world, here are three things you should do soon— y’know, once you’re done celebrating:
Talk to your school about which resources you have after graduation, and for how long. A lot of schools offer career development services in perpetuity after graduation, and there are some tangible resources that many schools will allow you to use up to one year after graduation— like academic databases, Microsoft Office, and other computer programs that might be useful to you during your post-grad job search.
Consider a temp agency. This is perhaps my favorite hack for new grads that I never, ever hear people talk about. Temp agencies, if you don’t know, are groups that place employable people like yourself with companies that are looking to hire someone temporarily. A company may hire a temp if they have a full-time employee going on sabbatical, or parental leave, or, if the company is working on a big project and just needs an extra set of hands to see it through. I think this type of work isn’t often recommended because the conventional advice is that a new grad should get his or her foot in the door at a company they can stay at long enough to grow. But, I’ve found that the real way things shake out in adulthood, is that you don’t know what you like until you try it. And so if you’re not sure what career path you want to commit to (like so many others in your shoes), getting placed with a temp agency will allow you to try out different roles with only a few months worth of commitment, and making money while you do.
Learn what you weren’t taught. This may be unsurprising coming from me, a finance nerd, but you need to take the time to set yourself up for financial success; and this will take a little bit of effort on your part because I know that you were not taught financial literacy in school. Even if you studied business or economics, I’m sure you focused on the finances of companies, or even nations, but never learned about your own bottom line. Did your Econ 101 professor ever talk to you about how to pay off the debt you incurred just by sitting in that class? I’d guess not. Money can’t buy happiness, that is totally true. But it can afford you opportunity. So start this new chapter by having a grip on your finances, and putting together a spending plan, so that you know you have your own back.
Now I did say that I wanted to keep this completely free of the repetitive stuff you hear in graduation speeches, but there is one thing that I want to say, that everyone else says, and that is: congratulations. I wish you all of the very, very best for what comes next— but I also hope you’re taking the time to celebrate where you are now. And remember: you don’t have to be Superhuman. Do what makes you feel like a Super [space] Human.
Do you want to get rid of debt, lock in that raise, plan for your best retired life, find unclaimed money and generally cruise along the road to financial freedom? Here are more ways to get it together and get it all:
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