“She said, ‘That’s what engineers do.’”
Layman set out to study electrical engineering but struggled. She was working restaurant jobs to cover tuition, away from home for the first time, and earning the worst grades of her life. “I ended up dropping out of school,” she says. “I was demoralized and completely depressed. The town I grew up in had just opened a coal-fired power plant, and my dad helped me get a job there. I thought, This is it, I’ll work here for the rest of my life.” But slowly, as she leaned into the work, her confidence returned. The men at the plant trained and encouraged her, and soon, she was back in night school. “What felt like a failure turned out to be one of the best things I could have ever done because I got hands-on experience,” she says. “Look toward the future, but do the best job you can do in the position you have right now.”
In any job, you can improve on what Guillebeau calls soft skills— writing, public speaking, Cosmopolitan negotiating, getting comfortable with technology— which are important but not always emphasized in school. Improve your followthrough skills by writing things down in a meeting, not walking away until you know the next steps, and setting dead-lines. “Be that person who makes things happen,” Guillebeau says. “Being a reliable person will help you stand out in a very competitive environment.”
At the end of each day, review what you did. “Ask yourself, What gave me energy?” suggests Guillebeau. “Think about those things that bring you joy and energy, and try to do more of those things, with whatever autonomy you have.” november 2016
If your chosen field turns out to be an energy-suck, you can always change lanes. Guillebeau abandoned an accounting major when his marks fell short. Minshew adored performing when it was a hobby but found that the more shows felt like a job, the less fun she had. “Young women feel so much pressure to be perfect. I think they feel it more than men do,” Layman says. “Have a plan for where you want to go, but the plan is not everything. If you get into something and it’s not what you thought it would be, that’s okay.”
For me, the year after college was a misery. My mom, a librarian, helped me get a job filing maga- zines in the stacks. It felt soul-deadening at the time but taught me a lot about magazines. next, I took an assistant role at a nonprofit with an eye to arts management but found that where I shined was research and writing. I doubled back to study journalism, worked at a series of editing jobs, and a few years ago, landed a position at Cosmo that is more fun than should be legal (we even won a national Magazine Award). I followed my bliss in a dozen directions, and I have no clue what comes next. I’m in no hurry to find out.