Dear Graduates - Here's Everything I Learned Since Leaving College (Part I)
My biggest takeaways and lessons since leaving college and becoming a sort-of adult
Hey Class of 2022... Congratulations!
You've probably completed a gruelling degree at college (or university) and you can bask in this moment. First piece of advice? Do bask in this moment. From now on, the big milestones can come further and further apart, so make sure to celebrate them as much as you can when they do arrive.
Anyway, when the big sigh of relief and glorious sense of freedom returns to a normal level and you begin to think about what's next, that's where I come in .
I left university two years ago and became an "adult" (gasp) and honestly, it feels like a lifetime ago. There's so much I've learned through good, but mostly difficult times, and I would like a moment to share some of the most valuable lessons I've learned to aid you on your next steps.
1. Embrace Growing Up
This one sounds obvious, but one thing that has stood out as pretty remarkable to me is how quickly time flies and just how much we change along with it. I left college at 21, nearly 22, and now I'm 24. Still young in the grand scheme of things, but when I look back on my newly graduated self, I realise just how young she was and how much she needed to grow up.
There is an element of sadness that comes with feeling "older". One being that the beauty of being in your very early twenties is that you feel as though life is a limitless currency. So much so that you might just be 21 or 22 forever. Then, a few years whizz by (possibly with some frown lines) and you realise that your earlier years are of a bygone time.
But there is a beauty in feeling just a bit older because it means you've grown or changed somehow. Growth doesn't happen out of nowhere. It has to be said that we often grow through our hardships rather than our triumphs. So, perhaps this a veiled way of saying that it's very possible that life is about to get harder. But fret not. As life gets harder and tougher, so will you - trust me on that.
2. Take the Time to Enjoy Life
This might seem in direct contradiction to the first point, but soon you'll learn that life is simply full of contradictions. There is not much in life that is black and white, right or wrong, yes or no. Most of it exists in the grey, and hopefully with maturity and hindsight, you'll be able to appreciate the nuanced contradictions life has to offer.
But anyway, when I say take the time to enjoy life, I mean it. This could mean different things to different people, so it's important to learn more about what truly makes you happy as you navigate your adult, independent life.
For most, after college, the first thing that one sets their sights on is a JOB. It makes sense and having a job signifies that you are a self-sufficient human who is capable of providing for themselves (and possibly others one day). In short, it's pretty appealing. However, the structures of work can be very invasive and all-consuming leaving little to no room for enjoyment unless you carve out those spaces for yourself.
Don't get me wrong, working hard is important, but try your best to live your life in work-life-harmony. In these first few months or years out of college, you'll realise that your own happiness is your responsibility. Whether 'enjoyment' manifests itself as smelling crisp air on a weekend walk, just going a bit mental at some festival or gig, or having dinner with your family reminiscing on the good days - do it.
3. Learn how to Take Care of Yourself
This again sounds very obvious, but it's one of the things I've found most challenging about adulthood. College is often associated with freedom and for good reason. Flexible timetables, long vacations - free time is mostly in abundance (depending on the major and type of university of course).
Adult life in contrast feels very 'busy'. It's probably going to be one of the words most frequently used when you explain why you can't go to Sunday brunch in your groupchat. And when life becomes busy, good habits and taking care of yourself seem secondary to the never ending to-do list. FYI - the to-do list never actually ends, so do yourself a favour and try not to race to the finish because there'll always be more tasks on the list.
There are a couple of basic things that a human needs to feel content: adequate sleep, healthy social bonds, a good diet, regular movement, and maybe a few hobbies. Without sounding harsh, the world doesn't necessarily owe you these things and it's not going to go out of its way to make them happen for you. You will have to take it upon yourself to be disciplined enough to love yourself. Sometimes that means putting down the phone at 10pm for some well-needed shut-eye, or booking off that PTO from work even when it's busy (bonus tip: there's never an ideal to take time off work - do it anyway).
4. Learn how to Slow the F*ck Down
Sometimes, entering actual adulthood can be like letting a kid loose in a candy shop. Full of frenetic, anxious and excited energy, wanting to sample every candy right now or they'll scream. It's wonderful and great to have aspirations and ambitions for yourself. But try your best to temper your expectations. You'll learn to find the right calibration between steadiness and go-getting, but it's important that you do.
It's true, time goes by quickly and as all of your peers veer off in different directions, it can feel like a race to see who can get the most done now. It's as though society planted a belief that your life pretty much ends once you hit 30. It doesn't. Don't miss out on the moment now because you're too busy looking to the future and wanting to get there now. A few years will go by and you'll want nothing more than to go back in time.
What I will say though, is that you shouldn't give up too easily on the things that matter to you. Say you want to be a digital marketer, but you feel as though the progress is far too slow and so you abscond the whole idea before you even get your first campaign out. If you truly love it, ride out the test of time. Small, consistent, cumulative efforts provide the biggest return in the long run. This principle is true in investing, exercising, and pretty much anything worth doing.
5. Don't Get Too Comfortable
The perennial adjectives of your twenties will probably be something like: chaotic, lost, confused. I think this is normal. These adjectives evoke fear in us. Humans like to be comfortable and safe - we're biologically wired for it. However, it must be reiterated that, humans often seek comfort - not growth. They are two opposing forces offering very different realities and it's a tough one to figure out.
The twenties are all about growth though. So, these years are bound to be a bit uncomfortable and that's okay. You will have many firsts like... your first job, your first relocation, your first big decision, your first big failures and successes. These mainly seem so intense in the moment because they're happening for the first time, not because they're wrong or bad.
Realise that every twist and turn, change and re-direction that life throws at you presents you with the chance to do things differently and build your character. By all means, stay safe in the important ways (don't drive recklessly, don't do too many drugs, or screw people over), but embrace the challenge and place a bet on yourself to grow through the change and discomfort.
Perhaps too bold of a statement, but you have your whole life to be "comfortable". A regret that many have later in life is that they weren't bold enough when they were young. That they favoured things that made them comfortable rather than better. That they clung onto familiar possessions, titles, and situations that ultimately ended up meaning nothing in the long-run.
BONUS LESSON: Be Bold, Like REALLY Bold
There's a lot of romanticisation about the twenties. Many will cite it as the best time of their lives, and others will refer to them as the 'good days'. Yet, when you're going through it, through all the madness and change, you might wonder whether these people are delusional or bullsh*tting you.
Don't they remember what it was like to be broke and living paycheque to paycheque? Or changing jobs for the third time in two years and how stressful that was? How hard it is to balance a job, your health, a social life, and maybe even a relationship?
Yes, all of these things are challenging. However, recognise that the greatest asset you have right now is not something that can be counted like cash in a bank account, it is time. Yes, there are responsibilities and you should take them on, but there is so much time and a type of boldness that is unique to the twenties.
We're often paralysed by fear, no matter what age we are, always thinking about the worst case scenario. But what if things went right? What if you just asked that person out for a date, or plucked up the courage to ask your boss for a raise, or just post that damn YouTube video? As I said before, you have your whole life to be comfortable.
When I feel stuck and scared in life, I often ask myself, "what is the story about my life that I'd like to tell my future kids?" Trust me, it doesn't involve climbing a corporate ladder (which it might for some and that's totally cool). It involves, random stories of me being brave enough to reach out to strangers to ask for help, opportunities, and advice. It involves loving with my whole heart and not taking people for granted. It involves seeing more of the world and listing off a bunch of random dreams I tried to turn into reality (even if I failed).
The biggest lesson, or maybe thing that I beg of you, is that you be bold during your time after college. Don't shut doors prematurely, be brave enough to dream and do, live a life that makes you sit back and think, "I'm pretty happy to be alive." Always be your own advocate even if you feel a bit rough around the edges. Own them. Advocate for yourself, challenge yourself and be your biggest supporter. There are probably going to be many situations that make you question yourself, your capability and whether you are worth it. You are. Every time.
Good luck out there!
P.S. I have about 1,000,000 other things I've learned since leaving college. If you'd like to read more of them, make sure to like and comment this article so we can navigate this weird thing called life together.