Rewind to 2014. I walked victoriously across the stage in my cap and gown, fresh from snapping a picture with Dean Eduardo Glandt. No lyrics rang truer in my head than, “School’s out for summer / School’s out forever.” I couldn’t wait to finally transition from college student to working professional. As much as I loved my Penn experiences (and still remember them fondly), I was ready to embark on the next stage in my life.
The word “adulting”—a way to describe engaging in activities associated with adulthood—may sound tongue-in-cheek, but it perfectly captures those initial pivotal years following college. Linguist and author Ben Zimmer says the word tends to be used by those “who find themselves doing adult things for the first time and feeling like an adult. It is very much attached to people coming of age, where they’re thrust into having to take things more seriously.”
As a now experienced “adulter”, I share with you my top three lessons from my first couple years of “adulting”:
- Your time is yours.No longer are you frantically finishing a problem set or cramming for a midterm late into the night. If you consider the typical 9-5 job, that means you have entire evenings and weekends (and potentially mornings if you’re an early bird!) to do what you’d like. I am fortunate to work at a company that encourages us to pursue what we love both at and outside of work. A few activities I’ve partaken in:
- Empowering current women engineers and inspiring the next generation volunteering with the Society of Women Engineers (an organization I was passionate about at Penn and am still deeply involved with as a professional)
- Bonding with friends old and new while being a tourist in my own city and discovering what makes it special
- Exploring my city’s vibrant restaurant scene and cooking up new recipes at home (inspired by my history with Penn Appétit)
- Supporting recruiting efforts for prospective college hires and making onboarding informative and fun for new employees
- Getting crafty with glassblowing, laser cutting, and designing handmade greeting cards
- Your degree does not define you.Any time I tell someone where I work, one of the most frequent questions I get is if I’m a software engineer or studied computer science in college. Do not judge a book by its cover. I am proud to help ship new features for our products and champion accessibility efforts as a Program Manager but I’ve also solved our enterprise customers’ toughest technical problems as a SharePoint Support Engineer. However, I do not code for a living and pursued three seemingly unrelated bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering and business.
I couldn’t be happier with my choices in college. Thanks to the M&T Program, my mixed curriculum challenged both sides of my brain on a daily basis and opened various routes for academic, professional, and social exploration. I’ve had exciting experiences in the classroom, from designing a medical device prototype model for practicing physicians (Clinical Preceptorship in Bioengineering) to examining the human side of management through experiential activities (Organizational Behavior).
As an M&T student, you learn to adapt to unknown environments, grasp concepts on the fly, and transform feedback into actionable change. That versatility equipped me with the skills to pursue anything I put my mind to. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to never be afraid to ask for help. By leaning on my family, friends, and coworkers, I acclimated more seamlessly to unfamiliar settings and hit the ground running.
- Invest in yourself and connections will follow.
I am proud of my independence. In 2010, I took a one-way ticket traveling almost 2,400 miles from L.A. to attend college in Philadelphia. In 2015, I took another leap of faith and headed north to Boston where I had almost no in-person network to speak of when I arrived with suitcases in tow. Many people were surprised by my jump into the unknown, but I was comfortable in situations others might find uncomfortable. I cherish flying solo amongst flocks of friends, whether it be going out to a restaurant, attending a concert, or seeking out a neighborhood street festival. Aloneness does not equal loneliness. I revel in the freedom to go wherever and whenever I want.
I will say friend-making was tougher than I expected, particularly outside the hallowed halls of a college campus. I’d have fascinating conversations with folks, but our kinships faded as the weeks went on. I would tell acquaintances about fun events in the city and they’d ask to join the next time around; however, each time I invited them in the future, they were never available. I didn’t expect how impenetrable existing groups would be. I felt like I constantly reached out to others, but no one met me halfway.
However, these experiences further developed the courageous and self-sufficient facets of my personality. Solitude is empowering. Do what makes you happy. Take some “me time” to recharge and rejuvenate. Stop and smell the roses. Try something you never expected you’d attempt for an invigorating experience. Take full advantage of the countless conduits for communication we have these days: I call, video-chat, text, email, send snail mail, fly out—everything short of smoke signals—to keep in touch with family and friends. It’s okay if the adjustment is slow. If you exude positivity and are open to new adventures, like-minded people will eventually come your way.
Fast-forward to 2017: I’ve traveled almost 2,500 miles back to the West Coast to set up new roots and pursue exciting opportunities. Looking back on that moment of euphoria during graduation, I never imagined this is where I would be now. Whenever I return to Penn’s campus and stroll down Locust Walk, it’s a bittersweet moment. That familiar sensation to be walking the same cobblestone brick I did as a student, but foreign at the same time because of the new person I’ve become. Getting the hang of “adulting” takes time, but do not let yourself stagnate when there is so much in the world to explore. Celebrate these moments and let it help you become a brighter, stronger version of yourself.
Nicole Woon is a member of the Class of 2014 and holds a B.S.E. in Bioengineering, M.S.E. in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, and B.S.E. in Management, concentrating in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
As an M&T, Nicole specifically enjoyed the tailored four-year curriculum for students enthusiastic about both business and engineering, the extensive network of students and alumni, and the lively city of Philadelphia.
Nicole currently works as a Program Manager for Microsoft. After calling Boston home for two years, she recently moved to Seattle in search of sweet and sticky teriyaki and fresh-shucked oysters (and possibly better weather). Nicole is just as passionate about food as she was when she first came to Penn and loves to swap restaurant recommendations and recipes. Life may be variable, but the Society of Women Engineers remains a constant for her.