John Eisenschenck, CC 2.0
Source: John Eisenschenck, CC 2.0

You’ve graduated or dropped out. Either way, it’s your first September without the structure of school—No MWF 9-11 class to show up at.

Now you’re supposed to be a grown-up. Now what?!


Are you experiencing The Imposter Syndrome, the feeling you don’t know enough to be a success on the job? It may be reassuring to know that’s very common. That’s because, alas, there’s a big difference between school competence and career competence. This section attempts to help you accelerate your career preparation without having to climb right back into the harness.

After years of school’s rigors, many people crave a break.That’s understandable. You can have your break while also pre-launching your career by doing one or more of these:

  • Travel with a purpose. If you have the travel bug, instead of just doing it to experience other cultures, might you do something that would be career-preparatory or impress your target employer? For example, if you’re aiming for a social services career, visit drug treatment programs in various countries. If you’re interested in an artisanry career, visit craft fairs internationally. Want to become a surgeon? Observe surgery in various countries. In text or video, log your discoveries. That document would augment your job and graduate school applications. Many new grads make money internationally by teaching English-as-a-second language. If that's your long-term career goal, sure, do that. But if not, the aforementioned may be wiser..
  • Hanging out the smart way. If you just want to hang out for a while, most of my clients have found that they reach a point of diminishing returns after just a week or two. If you’ve already been hanging out all summer but feel need for further reinvigoration, the answer may lie not in more hanging out but in trying out career options. For example, should you watch day-in-the-life videos on YouTube and job shadow people in various careers?
  • Putting your toe in a career water. Let's say you know what career you’d like to pursue but aren’t ready to sell yourself as work-ready nor to go straight to graduate school. Might you enjoy any of these lower-key approaches to career preparation: Take a Udemy course? They’re practical, offer reader reviews, free trials, and are cheap. Volunteer to help one of your buds in their business? Apprentice for a few hours a week with a master practitioner? For example, let’s say you aspire to be an anger management counselor. Find a top-Yelp-rated one and ask if you can watch sessions and debrief in exchange for your doing office work, errands, and even personal chores.


Housing. It’s your biggest expense so it’s usually worth the effort to get a deal. Once an apartment is publicly advertised, you’re competing with the whole universe and so if it’s a nice place, you probably won’t get it or will pay top dollar. But some apartments, backyard cottages, house shares, attics, and basement units never get advertised—The owner rents it to a friend or to someone referred by a friend. There even are places the owner wasn’t thinking of renting but if you're referred, may rent to you. So don’t limit your housing search to answering ads. Tell friends and family you’re looking.

Money. You’ve heard it ad nauseam but because so many people try to spend their way to contentment, it should be mentioned here yet again: You pay a big price for living a materialistic lifestyle: Your career choices are restricted and you may well find yourself needing an ever bigger dose of materialism to maintain that shopper’s high. Plus, you derive no pleasure from paying interest. What you feel is pressure. A more likely path to contentment is to earn enough to make a middle-class living, spend modestly and find contentment using Freud’s advice: good work and someone to love. I’d add: a creative outlet or sport. Plus, use a simple low-cost approach to investing. Most young people can afford more risk so two possibilities that many investment pros would nod at are Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund and iShares Core S&P Growth ETF..

Your parents. It’s natural for young adults to want to establish autonomy from their parents but it’s a tough world out there. Usually, parents will be among your strongest and most trustworthy allies. Unless your parents are really problematic, it’s wise to retain or rebuild a significant relationship with one or both of them and/or with your stepparent(s.) Not only may they be your most trusted advisors, they may  turn out to be your best career-door opener.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at

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