10 Lessons Learned Since Graduating from College

December 16, 2013
This was taken from a bookstore in IFC Mall in Hong Kong.

Two weeks are left before the year ends. And it’s been almost two years since I graduated from college. My post-college life thus far has been a series of unexpected events, where I feel the theme is Learning How to Let Go of Unfulfilled Dreams and Chase After Better Ones.

In the past 21 months, I immersed myself in finding fulfilling work, exploring and experimenting – while letting go of plans, breaking a few promises in between. Living beyond the safe haven of my dear university is an exhilarating, sometimes frightful experience. I like to believe I’m now becoming less anxious about the pressures of the “real world” and taking better control of this newfound freedom. I’m still learning so much and making a lot of mistakes, but here’s what I’ve discovered so far:

1. Choose to let go of some dreams to make way for better ones.

One of my greatest dreams is to study in the United Kingdom. I spent months researching and applying to  UK universities – this involved countless university fairs, a color-coded spreadsheet I made that tracks the status my applications, sleepless nights filling out online application forms and writing essays.

I applied to about 18 universities this year, and got accepted to four. My top choice is Goldsmiths University of London, where I got into an MA program in creative entrepreneurship. However, I was not permitted to pack my bags and reserve a housing slot in time for September – for practical reasons. I was heartbroken. But to my surprise, not for long.

A day after I learning I could not study and live abroad last July, I started to look for work. I applied to a few companies I’ve always been curious about. By God’s grace, I got accepted to my first full-time job less than a week after letting go of my UK dreams. It has been an unexpectedly exciting adventure altogether.

One can never run out of dreams to chase.

Looking back, I realize my dream of studying abroad might not have been the most sensible thing to do at the moment. What’s more, I found that heeding my parents’ advice and listening to what they have to say has blessed me with far more than I had ever expected.

After archiving my Graduate School folder, I started to focus on taking on new career and personal goals. I found ways to self-study the things I’ve always wanted learn, in lieu of taking an expensive MA program.

I still dream of living and studying in another country. Perhaps this can still come true in some unanticipated way. Who knows? The future is filled with endless possibilities. In the meantime, it’s time to dream more, and to dream better. The best part of it all? One can never run out of dreams to chase.


2. When you fail, either try again or try something else.

A couple of things that make me feel most alive are traveling and trying new things. Last year, I auditioned for the reality show Fun Taiwan. A carefully filled out form, an audition video, and a Skype interview later, I was given one of the most incredible opportunities of my life: to be one of the show’s 12 finalists, including an all-expense paid trip.

Sadly, I was not allowed to go – due to personal and safety reasons. I sent an email declining their offer. A few days later, I received a call for an interview for an internship in a multinational company. If I joined the month-long Fun Taiwan shoot, I would not have been able to do the internship, where I was able to design a magazine and immerse myself in the corporate world.

Last year, I also joined a CNN Travel contest which entailed posting a video of me sharing three reasons why I love to travel, but my video didn’t get win. I simply shrugged and told myself to keep an eye out for more contests like these in the future. I also received an offer for a teaching position, but I felt that  I’m not ready to be a teacher just yet. Therefore, I declined their offer.

These are some of my memorable recently failed attempts in my unending search for the next great adventure. Because of these, I learned to move on more quickly and be on the lookout for the next opportunity. It’s with these experiences as well that I began to trust in God’s ways and timing, which we will not understand at first. We should not let our personal plans get in the way of better things in store for us. (And if there’s another call for Fun Taiwan contestants, I’d want to try again!)


3. Keep in touch and keep your promises.

Being consistent in keeping little promises and responding to messages are often what makes friendships and relationships intact. Simply remembering to reply to a text message already means a lot. I’m guilty of often failing to follow through, and this is something I want to work on this better in the coming year.


4. Opportunities are everywhere if you search well, wisely, and with an open heart.

Whether you are looking for a job, a chance to meet new people, or maybe inspiration to help you start a new project, that opportunity is more often than not already near you, especially when you know where to look.

Since I enjoy meeting new people, I like attending small gatherings or workshops where I get to spend time with people whom I can easily relate to and share stories with.

Opportunities are more often than not already near you, especially when you know where to look.

A couple of workshops I attended recently is organized by The Better Story Project, where a group of twenty-something women get together to have conversations and share stories related to a certain topic such as courage, beauty, and goal-setting.

With the advent of the Internet, finding what you are looking for is not as difficult anymore as before. Finding opportunities is now about searching smart and staying curious.


5. Be intentional with how you spend each day.

Being more mindful of how we make use of the limited time we have is something I’m still learning to do every day.  It’s easy to spend a day doing nothing. What’s more dangerous is that it’s easier to squander minutes and hours of our days without noticing it.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. – Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

There are many ways for us to be more conscious of how we spend our time. Whether it’s investing in a good planner, setting reminder alarms on your phone, or simply opting to close that Facebook tab, it’s already a step forward.

Make a choice to spend your precious minutes on meaningful things than mindless ones.


6. You are free to invent your own life.


There is no one “correct” way on how to live a good life, no matter how much society tells us otherwise. The “right” kinds of career, relationships, lifestyle, and habits are different for everyone.

“To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.” ~ Bill Watterson

Making up the kind of life we want will take involve years of trial and error, and heading into brick walls for most of us (or to most especially for twenty-somethings like me), but I believe the struggle will be worth it in the end. Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson gave a speech to graduates of Kenyon College in 1990 about inventing your own life’s meaning, and his advice has since become the words I personally live by. (Zen Pencils comic version here.)


7. Keep engaging your passions. Experiment!

“Study broadly, and without fear,” said bestselling young adult novelist John Green in one of his hilarious-yet-makes-so-much-sense vlog episodes. Since graduating, I joined a blogging workshop, learned food photography , did a couple of hosting stints, designed a menu for a café, among other things. Presently, I find myself in a learning-to-draw phase and brushing up on Photoshop.

Study broadly, and without fear. – John Green

It’s always a good idea to learn a new skill, craft, or language, or to continue improving existing ones. Karen Cheng, a girl who learned to dance in a year, started a project called 100 which encourages anyone who wants to learn a new skill by taking a video of their progress every day for 100 days. Enrolling in online classes such as in Coursera or Skillshare is a good way to start, too. Or simply pick up that camera, pencil, or spatula or pair of running shoes, and just start!


8. Believe in your misunderstood and uncanny passions, even when no one else does.

I enjoy discovering new music and obsess over choosing the perfect colors. I spend too much time tweaking themes, organising my iTunes music library, making spreadsheets look orderly. I think everyone has at least one quirky talent only they themselves are good at doing.

Is there something you find yourself remarkably good at or obsessed about? Perhaps you have a knack at planning exciting parties, or coming up with the perfect playlist for any occasion, or maybe for some peculiar reason, you really enjoy cleaning houses. As long as it’s productive and safe, continue doing it and be better at it – it might be the starting point for a next big project or a business idea. With resourcefulness and creativity, that quirky talent you have can blossom into something more.


9. Choose battles wisely, learn to surrender gracefully.

I’m a firm believer in using your instincts when it comes to making a choice or taking on a new challenge. But beyond trusting your intuition, it’s good to make time to pray and ask for advice before acting upon anything, to be more certain that you are making the right choice. I made an important career decision recently, and while it was difficult, I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do.


10. Resist comparing yourself to others.

Everyone goes through life with their own unique pace. There is no fair way to assess how well we are faring in terms of career, achievement, and ability when we put ourselves side by side with our peers. Perhaps we should not treat life like a race, but rather like a stage, where everyone has their special, indispensable roles to play. There is one Zen Pencils comic that explains this better. ♡



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© 2014 Desiree Grace Tan. All Rights Reserved.

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