So. You have FINALLY graduated from college. Congrats to you!
You might have a job, are looking for a job or are just excited to be done with all the studying and classes and are trying to figure out what to do next.
This is an exciting time for many, but it can also be a challenging period in life. Regardless of what your next step is, it’s a transition and a big change from what you have likely been doing the last four years (or six years, conservatively).
The initial jump into the real world was a bit of a shock for me. While it was a period of lots of fun and freedom, there were inevitable challenges throughout. Because of my experience, I wanted to share some of what I learned. I’m certainly not an expert, but I thought it might be helpful for someone out there reading. I also must admit that many of these I’m actually still working on today – life is a journey, right?
Let go of planning, “shoulds” and “supposed to’s.” Life isn’t organized or predictable. At this point in your life, you aren’t really “supposed to” be doing any one thing. Embrace this! I think that because there is so much structure and expectation in the first 12+ years of our lives that by default, we are trained to try and plan for the rest of our lives in this same fashion. We simply can’t though. Just because something worked for one person, doesn’t mean it will work for the next. Life isn’t one size fits all.
Ask for help. There is no reason not to. It doesn’t mean you are weak, dependent, incapable or [insert descriptor word you feel about the term “help”]. You are starting something new and this is a great time to get used to asking for help from others. No one expects you to know everything --- and it’s better not to pretend that you do. Which brings me to my next point….
It’s okay to “not know.” This ‘mantra’ applies to SO many areas of life. Knowing what you are doing, where you will be in five to ten years, how to do something at work, what you want out of this year – the list goes on. Some of us are gifted with the passion to do one thing with our lives and know what that is from the beginning of time (for some reason I feel like doctors and pilots tend to fall into this bucket). Others have no idea what they want to do – even after studying one specific area for four years. It’s okay to have different interests and to not be sure of your path or where you may end up. It’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to not know, but take action anyways. What’s not okay, is standing by waiting for something to happen to you. You just have to start. Start exploring and trust that through your efforts, you will figure it out.
Practice self-compassion. This is a tough one, but it’s a big one. Don’t be so hard on yourself for the mistakes you make. Regardless of what you did in college, you are essentially starting over and starting at the bottom of the ladder. Know that this is okay and that people are expecting you to have a learning curve.
Build your support network. Think about this now so when you are having a rough day or week – you know who’s on your team and who you can call to vent, talk, laugh with, or ask for help and advice. As you graduate, you are likely moving away from all or most of your best friends and family. That means you’ll have to build a new support system for yourself. Outlining the different people that can fill the roles of your support network will do wonders for you. Add your parents, friends, family, sports teammates, professionals, coaches, professors, your boss, your neighbor, whoever. Figure out what role each of them will serve on your “team” and bookmark this for later use.
As a part of this, invest in a coach and / or a mentor right from the start. I’m a coach so I of course believe in its effectiveness, but by working with either of these professionals it can help you stay ahead of the game and stay on top of things that you don’t even know are coming your way. Coaches can help to point out your blind spots, identify strengths and weaknesses and really help you define and tailor a path for success. A mentor can also help guide you through the process and connect you with the people and resources you might need along the way. Build your network early on and it will help you later in life.
Get an exercise routine in place NOW. You may have been an athlete all your life and are finished with your career or a student that’s never worked out a day in your life. Don’t let either stop you from staying healthy and fit – this can help keep you in check and stay balanced in times of stress. Physical exercise provides so many benefits and releases so many endorphins (keeping you happy). If you are used to the daily grind of fitness, now is not the time to back it off. Your body will get old fast (trust me). Establishing a fitness routine now and taking care of your body early in life will help you SO much later on.
Reflect and relish. Take time to be grateful, reflect on your day, week or month. Pause for the good stuff and really soak those moments up. Things move so so quickly that without taking this time, you could totally miss all the little things that are really worth noticing.
No matter what happens, it will all be okay. This can be a tough one because you are putting trust out to the universe to help guide you in your path (rather than you being in complete control of your life. Gasp!) Things may not go as you envisioned, but what you can count on is that they will in fact “go.” We are meant to go through tough times in life to learn and improve. And if you can recognize these as learning opportunities or even gifts being given to you, you will be all that much better off. All of these experiences will make you stronger for what’s to come. As you embark on this new phase of life, find trust and peace in this. Find meaning and purpose in what you are doing daily and keep going.
For the new grads, cheers to you as you embark on your new journey and best of luck throughout this exciting time in your life!
For everyone else, what other pieces of advice would you share with new grads? What do you wish you would have known earlier in life?