A lot of people don’t tell you about the “real world.” A lot of you think you know about the “real world.” But, honestly, you have no idea what to expect or what the “real world” is until you are there. Even now, though I am graduated with a full time job, there is still so much I have yet to experience.

Despite your best efforts, you truly are in a bubble during college and, when you leave, it is a bit of a shock and a transition to adjust.That fear of not knowing what you’re doing does not necessarily go away. I struggled my senior year of college constantly thinking everyone else knew what they were doing and I did not. How is it that everyone seemed to have their lives together and know the exact steps to take? Why did I feel so uncertain?

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Last year I had the opportunity to attend SPARKSouth, where I had the chance to speak with long-term professionals in my field. There I received the best advice I could ask for at that moment in my life: no one knows what they are doing, especially in the beginning.

My feeling of unsteadiness will likely remain for a long time. Even if you are excelling in a career you love, human nature dictates that we tend to compare and think that what we are doing is not enough.   

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Here’s the thing: as long as you are actively pursuing and working towards a goal and bettering yourself, it is enough.

As a busy and poor college student, I begrudgingly signed up for SPARKSouth which was a requirement to graduate with a digital marketing emphasis. Little did I know that it would be the most beneficial resource my university had to give me.

Within one day, I sought out advice, formed meaningful connections, and learned about my future. This opportunity better prepared me for my future than four years of classes, and I know several other students shared this sentiment.

SPARKSouth was the very event that settled my post-college concerns and, eventually, helped me land my current job - one that is currently testing me as a marketer and pushing me to be better every day.

Key takeaways from my experience at SPARKSouth:

No one takes the same path...

This was a direct quote from one of the panelists in a session I attended. As simple as it sounds, it resonated with me the hardest. There is no point comparing yourself to other people because no one has your personal experiences. Focusing on yourself and overcoming your struggles is important in every aspect of life.

You can’t be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, you have to form your own path of success. Even if that path comes with some failures. To paraphrase an old saying: "Without experience we make bad choices, but we need to make bad choices to gain experience." I constantly catch myself comparing myself to others on social media, in my career, or even in comedy (a long-time hobby). Mike Birbiglia, a famous stand-up comic, brilliantly stated that you cannot take the same path of success or road as another comic. Once they have done the “different” thing to get discovered, it is no longer different and you cannot copy it.

One panelist emphasized that if it takes multiple internships to figure out what exactly it is you want, then do it. Before you are committed to something, figure out exactly what you want to invest your time in. Of course, not everyone stays in the same career path. I have found that often people have changes of heart - whether in college, post-college, or way into their 50s. Do what you’re good at and what makes you happy.

If you know for certain marketing is your passion, then awesome! Check out this Marketer’s Career Path blog to get a jump on the steps necessary to succeed.

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Network and put yourself out there!

Network, network, network! You never know who you could meet or where a relationship could go. Talk to your peers at the event and in your classes - they may help you down the line. Also take advantage of the speakers who are experienced in marketing and can be helpful resources. Exchange cards and email them with a follow-up thank you and questions. I did this and actually gained several connections from it! They frequently want to help you, but you have to make the first move!

When you talk to potential contacts, have a solid idea of who you are and what you’re thinking of pursuing. In any career opportunity setting, it is important to stand out by having a strong personal brand.

Be sure to utilize the networking opportunities in your school or community. My alma mater constantly brings speakers in, offers assistance at their Career Center, has business fraternities that are great for meeting people in the same field, and hosts networking events. Just keep an eye out for them! Atlanta particularly has a rich ecosystem of organizations that hold events including Switchyards, AMA Atlanta, and AIMA. They provide opportunities for new graduates and young business leaders to connect as well. Always focus on forming relationships, but remember that they must be nurtured.

Ask Questions

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase that no question is stupid! Experienced marketing professionals have lived and experienced a little more than you, so just ask what is on your mind! You’ll never know unless you ask, and you most certainly do not want to kick yourself later that you missed an opportunity to express yourself and get feedback. The speakers willingly volunteered to provide you with an informative session. Ask away!

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As this year’s SPARKSouth approaches, I encourage you to keep an open mind. You may be sitting in the same room with your future employer or coworkers or you may even be inspired to start your own company. Sign up here to start your career adventure!

This blog was written from the perspective of our newest team member, Madeline Evans

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