I graduated from college one year ago today. That’s still a really weird thought. Unfortunately, in one year’s time I have not become a fountain of wisdom who can share every secret of life after school lets out. But it has been a year, and I have learned a lot.
Given that, and for all of my friends who are starting their own post-undergrad lives, these are the things I wish someone would have told me when I graduated:
There will be times when you feel crowded, and times when you feel lonely. Both feelings are inevitable, and neither being with a bunch of people nor being by yourself is a bad thing. Figure out how to enjoy both, but also know that it’s okay if you’re stuck with one and want the other.
Start reading again. Go at your own pace. Read whatever you want. It’s cool to watch tv too. But pick up a book or those magazines that have been piling or the comic books that have been gathering dust. Read the news on purpose instead of just when something comes across your feed. I’m so glad that I set aside time most days to read, and that I’m starting to enjoy it again. I truly believe reading is the best way to keep learning, and you might just find the magic in it again.
Start saving up asap. Whether you’re looking to pay down student loans, start paying your own bills if you don’t, or just save up for other adult-ish things, start saving. If you already did that’s awesome. I started actively saving later into college than I should have, so it was a huge priority when I got out, and now I am happy to say that I am basically self-sufficient (aka I still call my parents for advice and they buy me food when I come visit but I pay for all my own junk). Being financially independent is a really nice feeling, so don’t put it off for too long.
You will have to work a lot harder to find community. It bums me out all the time that I can’t just go knock on a friend’s door or text them about last-minute plans because we’re only 3 minutes away. My new church is more of a drive and I don’t know many people there. My family and most of my close friends are hours or plane flights away. And there are no longer classes and clubs and school events and a cafeteria all set up in some way to help make friends. I joined a soccer team and I try to hang out with coworkers when I can, but building a sense of community is a lot trickier than it used to be.
Related, you have to choose to stay in touch. I figured a lot of friends from college would fade a bit into the background, which has happened. But there are still some that I talk to every day. I’ve been able to see friends from back home at least a little more often than I used to, but all our schedules are harder to work with. The good news is this makes it easier to let go of relationships that weren’t good for you or them. The bad news is you have to find ways to make it work. I often FaceTime friends who are far, constantly text a close friend who’s across the country, and social media has actually been more of a help than a weird distraction. But if it’s an important relationship, it’s on you to maintain it.
Romanticizing the past will leave you stuck, and romanticizing the future will leave you disappointed. I hope college was cool for you. I really enjoyed (most of) the time I was there. But hanging onto it is going to stunt the enjoyment and growth of this new stage of life. If college wasn’t your favorite or you just think the grass is greener, take a deep breath. There will be awesome things and crappy things about being a grownup and not a student, and realistic expectations will help keep you on the right track.
You will (probably) feel more like a grownup. This is honestly my favorite part. And it took a while to settle in. When I was still living with my parents and applying for jobs and working part-time I didn’t feel like a grownup — I felt very in-between. But now living on my own (still with roommates), working full-time with my other obligations totally up to me, I’m pretty stoked. I come home at the end of the day and there is no homework, there is no job to get to after classes, there is no packing up all my junk twice a year. I still have to cook and clean and generally be responsible, but the rest is up to me. So I’ve visited friends and taken day trips and caught up on a bunch of tv shows and read books and tried new recipes and been able to not stress about when a paper was due or if I could afford pizza. I fully realize not everyone is yet or is still at that spot, but there’s something to be said for feeling a little more settled.
You can’t be in three places at once. Not that you could before either, but after college it often feels like those different priorities tugging at you are more spread out and unfortunately you won’t be able to make them all happen. I wanted to be in three other states this weekend, plus two different parts of the state I’m actually in, but I only got one. And it sucks, but it’s something we have to learn to live with.
You will hopefully get a little closer with your family. When I was living at home I got to see extended family way more often than I did during school, and even now that I’ve moved out I still visit family about once a month, FaceTime regularly, call often, and you know what? It’s awesome. Your family misses you. As long as it’s a safe, fairly healthy relationship, nurture it.
Days off are when you choose now. Mostly, of course. I was the kind of person who did not randomly skip class or take days off when I was in school. Actually, the only classes I ever missed for a non-academic reason were PE classes or one weekend when I went home to visit an ailing family member. (I did also miss for a couple of school-related trips and to help out with other classes.) The first day I took off at my current job was just because I wanted to. Wasn’t sick, didn’t have big plans, just because I could. I’ve also got time off scheduled to be a part of some exciting events in the next few months. So yeah, no summer break, but there is likely a lot more freedom to plan your life now.
You’re not old yet. You will feel like it sometimes. I go to bed around 9 p.m. so often now and it’s really weird. People will be getting married and having kids and you’ll wonder if you’re really old or even missing something. You’re not. All this stuff goes at a different pace for everyone now, and you’re in the middle of real life, but you’ve still got time left to savor it.
You’re going to keep changing, and hopefully growing. I’ve changed more in the last year than I did during my first year of college. A lot of it has been for the better: I feel more settled, more confident (in some areas), I sleep better, and all of the things I mentioned above. The other stuff I’m working on: I stress for different reasons, I don’t get to listen to as much music, I don’t do as well with being alone. I’ve learned new skills and Some things have remained the same, of course, but I hadn’t realized that I would change just as much as my circumstances after walking across that stage. So don’t think you’re done growing yet.
So there you go. To all my friends who have just graduated or will be doing so shortly, congratulations. I’m insanely proud of y’all. To all my friends who graduated with me, I miss you guys. Life’s got some cool stuff in store for all of us, and we’ve got a lot of people who care about us to make it through the difficult times. Let’s make it an adventure.
(Photo credit goes to my mom, for catching the same pose I’ve been making since childhood when I want to show something off — sorry it’s low-res but yes, that is how happy I was after graduation.)