Despite the fact that I’ve been out of college for a little over a year, I still get that same back-to-school excitement as the summer fades to fall. I am actually that obnoxious person who never had a strong case of senioritis and, to my friends’ horror, I even miss writing research papers and reading compelling course material. While I was excited to embrace post-grad (the above picture depicts my elation), I didn’t quite expect it to be the adjustment that it was. Navigating life after college is different for everyone; for me, it’s been equal-parts thrilling and confusing. While I no longer feel the pressure of finals and finally have the time to really pursue my dreams, I’m suddenly answering the persistent and inevitably tough questions every graduate should be familiar with: “What do you want to do with your life?,” “Why are you working there? Is that what you went to school for?” and “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” If I could go back in time, here is what I would tell myself after the high of graduation wore off and the post-grad confusion set in:
No. 1: Don’t be so concerned with where other people are at in their lives in relation to your own.
Life is not like school, where everyone is expected to graduate at the same time. Your classmates will find success at their own speed, as will you. Maybe it will take you longer than others, but trust that you will get there eventually. Give yourself a daily pep talk if you must – in the mirror, in the car, on Post-It notes scattered throughout your apartment. Remind yourself that you’re comparing your behind-the-scenes with someone else’s highlight reel; obviously the latter is going to look a lot more polished! And if you really insist on throwing yourself a pity party, then it’s time for some real talk: there is always going to be someone smarter, richer, prettier, etc. than you. Learn to admire someone else’s beauty (or intelligence or whatever) without completely questioning your own. Ultimately, comparison is irrelevant and will deprive you of joy.
No. 2: Don’t shy away from asking for help.
While you may think being an adult means proving you can do anything and everything on your own, asking for help is often necessary. Virtually no one got to where they are today alone. You have nothing to lose by reaching out, so swallow your pride and pick up the phone. After all, the worst a person could say is “no.” Big deal! Who you know and the gold nuggets of information they give you can majorly influence your career, so make connections and nurture them.
No. 3: Most of the things that feel like the end-of-the-world probably won’t matter in six months’ time.
It’s a given that you’re going to feel totally overwhelmed and unprepared at times; however, those flat tires, bouts of sinusitis, missed appointments, stained interview blouses, and apartment incidents really aren’t that disastrous in the big picture of life. They’re actually just temporary pains in the ass that make up the true litmus test of adulthood! You can, of course, be semi-prepared by having your SSN memorized (duh!) and the following easily accessible: AAA card for roadside assistance and health insurance card for unexpected trips to Urgent Care, a wireless cell phone charger, hidden house key, First-Aid kit, stain-removing pen, and renter’s insurance. While having these things may bring you some comfort, perhaps a bigger comfort is realizing this: for 100 percent of the problems you will experience in life, at least one other person has also experienced and lived through it.
No. 4: Your “career” doesn’t have to be one thing.
As a kid, you could probably answer what you wanted to be when you grew up with conviction; however, now your answer may not offer the same clarity because your interests are more varied than a single occupation can contain. Perhaps your “true calling” is to not have just one true calling! Leave some space in your life to engage in productive and creative activities outside of your job. But rather than dabbling, be decisive and invest the time. Start that blog you’ve meaning to get around to, become a yoga instructor, get your sommelier’s certification, take some cooking classes, hone your photography skills, work on that screenplay – do whatever will evolve your interests and help shape who you want to be rather than what you want to be. Who knows? A career may find you somewhere outside of your workplace.
No. 5: Dating is a completely different ballgame.
While you’d probably like to believe graduation magically transforms everyone into mature, emotionally-available people who are fed up of “The Game,” everyone is still playing for the most part (and with their own made-up rules). You have two equally excellent choices: sit out a few rounds and enjoy your own company (be your own bae!) or let “The Game” take care of itself. How exactly do you achieve the latter? Don’t give a shit about “The Game”! You may never master it and you’ll probably never like it, but you will have to coexist with it. And, the goalposts have moved since college. Your friends can’t vouch for that cute stranger at the bar and you won’t be able to run into people as easily as you would on campus. You’ll have to put in more effort if you actually want to meet people (like signing up for those online dating apps you swore you’d never try), but you will go on more real dates (ones that include actually going out to dinner rather than eating greasy pizza and watching Netflix in the dorms). You should also know that it’s totally acceptable to casually date multiple people at the same time. While it was probably tricky to do this in college (the odds were pretty high you’d run into one while making out with another at a house party), there’s no shame in dating around post-grad. Because this is common, never assume exclusivity unless there’s been a discussion.
No. 6: Opt for auto-pay when you can.
While you may be apprehensive, not having to worry about whether you paid your utility or Internet bill on time and in full is a major convenience. Plus, these automatic payments can even help with your credit score! This doesn’t mean you can neglect your finances or that you should sign every bill up for auto-pay, but it is definitely something to consider if you’re easily overwhelmed and want to stay organized.
No. 7: You’ll have to make an effort to stay connected with old friends and meet new ones!
Compared to seeing your college cohorts daily, the post-grad experience can feel a little lonely. Everyone’s busy trying to do their own thing (or rather, figuring out what their thing is), so you’ll have to make plans if you want to see them. Be the fun-initator! You’ll also soon learn that your circle of friends from college will fluctuate and that’s okay. However, don’t be so quick to close the door; those “why were we never friends in college?!” relationships that materialize post-grad are often the sweetest surprises. When it comes to making friends in a new city, it’s not as challenging as you might think. Sign up for a weekly yoga class, frequent your local farmer’s market, or hit up happy hour – put yourself in social situations where you think you’ll meet interesting people. If you connect with someone, exchange numbers and ask him/her on a friend date. Also, never underestimate being set up on a friend date. If your friend is smart and fun, chances are they have friends who are similarly awesome!
No. 8: Make rest a priority and take better care of your body.
You could probably get away with Kraft Mac and all-nighters in college, but that’s not going to fly post-grad. You won’t sleep in or nap nearly as much as you used to, so take full advantage of your bedtime. Also, up your grocery shopping game. As a general rule of thumb, shop the perimeters of the store rather than the inner aisles (where you’ll find a lot of the crap you ate as a college freshman). Invest a few cookbooks or find a food blogger you like and perfect a few healthy recipes. Snack smartly. Buy a BPA-free water bottle and hydrate like it’s your job.
No. 9: Make the most out of your less-frequent hometown visits.
Unless you moved home after college, you’re probably not going to make as many trips to Mom and Dad’s house. Long gone are the week-long breaks you were granted throughout college; now you’ll have to be more strategic when asking your boss for days off from work. That being said, really enjoy whatever time you get with your family and friends. Although tempting, don’t be a homebody. If it’s a quick trip home, do your best to reach out to those you’ll need to make plans to see. A few scheduled lunch dates will also give you the excuse to pick up coffee from your favorite roastery and bread from the bakery you love. Lastly, a trip home is never complete without the exchange of a long hug and kiss and “I love you’s” to your parents.
No. 10: You may feel on the verge of a quarter-life crisis.
You might not have heard about the quarter-life crisis (it’s often overshadowed by the mid-life crisis), but it may help explain the way you’re feeling at this moment in time. It’s essentially defined as “feelings of confusion, anxiety, and self-doubt experienced by some people in their twenties, especially after completing their education.” It’s that pressure to make your twenty-something years your twenty-everything years. Sound familiar? Suddenly you (the girl who thought she had her shit together) are experiencing not knowing what to do next. While it may not seem ideal right now, losing a little control over your life can be surprisingly enlightening. In the words of your acting coach: “Embrace the messy! Get comfortable with being uncomfortable!” This personal “crisis” actually forces you to re-evaluate your priorities, get more in touch with yourself (soul-searching time!), and eventually opens you up to new and exciting possibilities. Don’t fear this period: it can actually be the experience you need to take your life to the next level.