The Perseverance of A Life Lived Unapologetically: Navigating Your Post-Graduation Path

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I hated my graduation.

I was worried that life was downhill from here onwards—that the day foreshadowed how the rest of my adult life would pan out.

On the ride to Lincoln Center, my cab driver saw my purple robe and graduation cap and offered his congratulations. He told me that he, too, was an NYU student once majoring in Russian literature. He ended up in prison for a year and hasn’t had the chance to finish his degree since. I remember thinking that God has a sense of humor.

The whole ordeal lasted about four hours, which included the bestowal of a dozen or so awards. Each time, a faculty member would start with a lengthy, overdramatic introduction of another faculty member, who would then start over with yet another overdrawn introduction of the recipient.

On my right hand, I clutched the degree I had worked on for the past three years, a Bachelor of Arts in postcolonial studies and theatre—arguably the weirdest and least marketable degree you could possibly get. My post-graduation plan was an internship (not a full-time job like I had hoped) at a boutique advertising agency working on Off-Broadway shows.

After three years of rigorous studying, I felt suddenly small and insignificant. The friends I went to class and studio with were on stage as part of the platform party and award recipients. All of them have historically been educated at elite American institutions from an early age. I felt like the cards were stacked against me, and that I was a dime a dozen in a vast pool of brighter, more talented individuals.

I did not want a life of sitting on the bleachers, waiting on the crumbs of greatness.

***

That was then, and this is now. What followed for the next nine months was a series of new experiences, new relationships and new discoveries. I ended up loving my internship and staying for a total of nine months as a full-time staff member. In November 2014, with tight fists and an eager heart I left my life in New York to return to Jakarta. I am at the end of the first episode of my post-graduation journey. I will be working at the Sales and Account Management department at Google Singapore, where I will be for the next two years. The anxiety and the uncertainty has finally ended, and I have had a chance to reflect on the long winter past.

I want to portray my journey honestly. My hope is that my story will help you in asking the right questions and finding answers in the right places during this harrowing time. You will be alright, more than alright. But you will need to work very, very hard.

During my third year of college, I started working at the Broadway League and on my first Broadway show, the premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Every day I fell more deeply in love with the welcoming community and constant innovation of the Broadway Industry. I wanted to produce and write new theatre in New York.

Everyone I graduated with wanted to be the next Lena Dunham or James Franco. Most of them moved back home after graduation, applied to graduate schools or started yoga teacher training. Many of them are waitressing at night and auditioning during the day, coming home too exhausted and too drained to create anything. The very thought of this life makes my stomach turn. I think that kind of single-minded obsession—this idea that you can only create under pressure and outside the limits of comfort is totally unsustainable for an artist. You end up wasting a lot of time.

I learned to accept that my life is a marathon, not a sprint. There are detours, but even those brings you closer to your goal. I was less interested in making sacrifices, and more interested in turning every experience into a learning opportunity—I want to enjoy the journey. I know that nothing is wasted in God’s economy.

In the summer after my graduation, as I juggled a full-time job, I found that my creative work was also more exciting than ever. Opening my mind allowed me to find and work on the opportunities that were good fits for me. I produced my first solo-show at the biggest venue I had ever worked on, and joined a writing group. Both led me on a new journey to finish two works that I started writing that summer.

The plot twist came in November 2014, when I had to make the choice to leave New York. I remember telling my boss on a cold Monday morning and crying together in her office. There, the first doubt I struggled with post-graduation came full circle—what I thought would be a “mediocre” internship led me to cultivate very meaningful friendships, both on a personal and professional level. I ended up continuing to work for her even when I was in Jakarta.

However, I had accepted that the chapter of my life in New York had come to an end, and I was ready to find a job and build my life on this corner of the globe.

I thought back to the lessons learned during my semester at the Tisch acting studio. We used to work on Shakespeare monologues—writing out the iambic pentameter above each syllable like Chinese tonalities, and researching the context of each word during the period. What I loved about theatre is that it lives in the details of the moment to moment work.

This is the kind of painstaking but incredibly effective process I applied to my job search. No sentence is too small to be polished—I knew a bullet point on my resume could mean the difference between a hiring manager passing me by or putting me to the next round.

I had incredibly supportive friends who referred me to a total of 13 positions in two different companies. Only one job called me back. Great, I thought, I only need one job.

I scoured Glassdoor to compile a list of approximately fifty interview questions. Some of these were competency-based questions, while others resemble case interview questions. I discovered that the most effective way to prepare for competency-based interviews is to research what hiring managers are actually looking for in that question. For case interviews, the best way to prepare is by having an excellent framework and practicing a lot. In every case, having answers prepared for the interview is usually not enough.

For me, rigorous practice always shines through on the day. I knew that I was not the smartest, most qualified or most skilled candidate vying for this position, but I could be the most prepared.

I remember my sister scoffing about how I was always at home in front of my computer, even on the weekends. I didn’t want to lose a great opportunity just because I didn’t work hard enough. At the end of every night for around 15 minutes, I allowed myself the indulgence of browsing Quora about the opportunities and the fun people have working in the tech industry.

***

 In January 2015, I finally got the offer.

This new job is the answer to a four-year prayer. I remember being a senior in high school and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I was always a good student, but never one with a clear idea of what she wanted to do. Theatre was something I fell into as a freshman because I loved the community and the process. For the first time in my life, all the seemingly unrelated experiences and lessons have come together wondrously in an opportunity that will allow me to grow as an adult.

Seniors, I wish you the best in your post-graduation soul search. I encourage you to ask questions in this Indonesia Mengglobal community, all of us are more than happy to help you with an answer to the best of our ability. Continue to work hard, have fun and never compromise.

Content edited by Artricia Rasyid

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Ho’s personal collection