In 2008, post-secondary graduates stepped out of school and into a recession, making it difficult to find work and launch their careers on a high note. In 2020, members of Gen Z are looking back on lessons from that time as they face an arguably even more challenging circumstance – entering the “real world” virtually, in an economy battered by a global pandemic.

That challenge is enough to make anyone uneasy – but as a 2021 graduate myself, I’m happy to report it’s looking a lot more surmountable these days. Yes, it took some time to adjust to the idea of graduating in the middle of a pandemic, but my perspective has shifted.

As much as our generation has struggled this past year, I think many of us have come to realize that the future of work presents no shortage of new opportunities for us, many of which weren’t viable before. So, if you or someone you know is experiencing some “pandemic-grad anxiety,” read on while I highlight some things we can look forward to.

I caught up with a few 2020 grads I know who made the proverbial lemonade out of what first seemed like a sour situation. I’m writing about them because these are the kinds of stories that inspired me to change my tune when I wasn’t feeling so optimistic.

I want to clarify that I know each of us has experienced the pandemic differently, and that will continue. While there are many diverse perspectives on the topic, I hope some of these pieces of advice resonate with you as they did with me.

Chloe Kruis, co-Founder of Ekko

Kruis graduated in fall 2020 from Wilfrid Laurier University. One year later, in April, she successfully co-founded Ekko, a reusable takeout container service. You can read all about Ekko here, but I wanted to know how Kruis made it happen in the first place.

“When I graduated last fall, I felt a lot of grief for the opportunities I’d lost. I was actually supposed to go to Europe or work out west but the pandemic made that complicated, of course. At first, I started applying to jobs and had a really difficult time. A lot of companies just weren’t hiring and even if they were, so many things were unclear,” she said.

“I knew working from home would be a challenge if I landed a typical 9-to-5 job and, personally, I wanted to do something different. At the same time, the pandemic really solidified for me that I wanted to work in sustainability and have a say in what the future of our planet is going to look like. When I was ready to re-evaluate things and stop dwelling on my original plans, I focused on the areas I did still have some control in and thought, what can I make of that? Eventually I decided, ‘You know what, if I can’t find a job I want – I’ll make my own.’”

So, what’s her advice for today’s new grads?

“You have time and you have an excuse to really take a breath, step back and take stock of what you want in life. Take that break. Then take it one day at a time from there. You can still do all of the things you wanted to do – I know I plan to.”

Kruis and I also discussed our hopes for a future of work that is prepared to understand and forgive the resume gaps that will inevitably appear on our generation’s record as we slowly but surely make up for the adventures we had to postpone in our early twenties.

André Bourgeois, Enterprise Innovation Analyst at CIBC

When Bourgeois finished his degree in spring 2020 and landed his first job, he was told the company would be working remotely until at least January. Being a huge advocate for travel, he saw opportunity in that arrangement right away.

“I realized working remotely meant I could work from pretty much anywhere, so I asked my manager if I could live in Montreal rather than Toronto where our office is. It’s a city I’d always wanted to explore. They were really supportive,” said Bourgeois. It’s now June and his team hasn’t gone back to the office yet.

“Initially I was only expecting that to last until January, but when that didn’t happen, companies started to break down barriers and grew comfortable working from home. Of course it’s been challenging in a lot of ways and it’s daunting to start your career in a remote or hybrid work environment that just didn’t exist before. But, it’s also really empowering once you gain confidence in how well you can make it work for you. And as digital natives, we’re lucky to be well versed in the world of technology – today’s new grads will figure it out. In fact, I think I probably would have been a little bored with the old way of working.”

Bourgeois reminds new grads to recognize the opportunities this new world of work presents.

“Now more than ever, you can create the lifestyle you want within the confines of your career because we have so much more freedom. When we worked in offices every day, people had to co-ordinate the rest of their lives around their jobs, whereas now, you can co-ordinate your job around the rest of your life. You don’t necessarily have to choose between doing the kind of work you want to do and living in or travelling to new places. The job market has cracked wide open and we have access to the whole world … and the fact is that companies who aren’t willing to pursue a hybrid or flexible work model going forward are going to lose a lot of really talented people.”

Jody Fennell, Marketing Director at MyExpatTaxes, a Product of Software Spinner (now living and working in Vienna, Austria)

Like many new grads, Fennell’s plan was always to go abroad after graduation in spring 2020. She had started looking for jobs through AISEC and when the pandemic hit, she decided she would stick with that decision and pursue an opportunity she’d found, even if it came with a lot of uncertainty.

“I moved to Austria in August 2020 because at the time they were still working in the office. Three weeks after I got there, we all started working from home, but I wanted to stay and make the most of my time here – pandemic or no pandemic,” said Fennell. “Of course that experience brought on a lot of anxiety but, looking back, I think this was the best decision I could have made for myself personally and I’m really glad I honoured that.”

Fennell’s team plans to return to the office in August and she explained that for her company and the country they’re based in, something of a “hybrid” model has always existed. She’s learning a lot from that perspective that she hopes will translate well to Canada when she returns someday.

When sharing advice for new grads, Fennell emphasized that you can still make your travel dreams happen in the not-so-distant future.

“Obviously I'm not going to encourage people to travel right now because I won’t lie, it is still a bit of a mess. No surprise there – moving to another country during a pandemic is difficult. But what I do want to say is that there is so much light at the end of the tunnel and I think we’re all finally starting to see it. Just try to make the best decision for where you’re at right now and trust that there is still a lot of opportunity out there. Don’t be afraid of missing out. This is just the beginning – the future of work is looking bright.”

At the end of the day, we all know that this period in our lives has its cons. No one can argue that – but, things continue to change quickly and we are all moving forward despite it. As the pandemic fog begins to lift around the world, trust in your ability to adapt. This particular graduation may look unconventional, as milestones go, but I’d encourage you to look at it through the lens of stories like these, knowing there are many others like them out there from the past year.

How do you want your story to go?