A wave of conflicting feelings come rushing back to me with each black cap and tassel I scroll past on Instagram. I am taken back to the confusing combination of pride, sadness, excitement and fear I felt as I zipped up my robe on graduation day.
As I crossed the stage at the end of my college career, I was greeted with uncertainty. I had no set plan. I had no job offer. I didn’t even know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and yet, the time had come for me to be an adult.
I dreaded saying goodbye to my college town, as I heard tales of the terrors of the “real world.” For years I had been warned to never leave college. And for the next few months, I spread that same narrative. My lack of plans caused me a lot of anxiety. I felt like a failure, so I blamed the world around me for my shortcomings—just as I had watched everyone else do before me.
Then something weird happened. Some of my friends found jobs they enjoyed. They moved into new apartments in new neighborhoods and new cities they loved. They started thriving. They were happy.
Soon after that, things fell into place for me too. And then the real world didn’t feel so bad. In fact, it was kind of great.
It’s tough to know what to expect after you leave college. But there are a few things I can tell you with certainty about these uncertain times:
You’re going to miss college.
You’ll miss your school. You’ll miss your grimy college house. You’ll miss being surrounded by your best friends 24/7. You’ll miss dollar drinks. You’ll miss half-priced sushi. You’ll miss the events and traditions and holidays and festivals. You might even miss your classes.
Although none of that will ever be exactly the same, visiting college as an alum is a blast. Be sure to take advantage of alumni events, or make excuses for a weekend visit.
You’ll stay in touch with the important people.
Watching your friends move from down the hall to across the country can be scary. But, no matter where you end up, it’s easy to keep in touch with the people you care about.
That doesn’t mean you’ll keep in touch with every friend. Some friendships aren’t meant to last forever, but that doesn’t make them any less special. Some people serve a certain purpose in a certain moment of your life but don’t stand the test of time.
I am willing to bet that many of your college friends will remain the most important people in your life for years to come. You may not talk every day like you used to, but the people who helped you navigate the last few years will be the people who help you navigate the next stages in your life.
Nothing will come easily.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
I call bullshit.
Even if you love the work you’re doing, you still have to work at it. If you’re an artist following your passion, you’re going to have days when you don’t feel like painting.
You’re going to have to work hard for what you want. Nothing will be handed to you. But having a job you love will make all the work worth it.
Uncertainty will lead to opportunities.
In college, much of your path is clearly laid out for you. Once you decide on a major, you are provided with a list of required coursework to serve as a roadmap for the next few years.
After graduation, your next steps are not so clear. That can be terrifying. It can also be invigorating.
It’s time for you to figure out who you are and who you want to be. You may think you already know this, but, once you allow yourself to step outside of the box you put yourself in, things may begin to fall into place.
Your life is not going to follow the plans you’ve made. But no one has to have everything figured out in their early twenties.
Life doesn’t end after graduation day.
Sure, it may be the end of life as you know it. But let’s face it—your liver has had enough of your college lifestyle.
I can promise you that there is so much to look forward to about the adult world: the little things (like eliminating Wendy’s 4 for $4’s from your diet) and the big things (like traveling the country to visit your long-distance friends).
This new phase of your life has the potential for so much excitement. If you’re willing to put the effort into building the life you want, you can make it beautiful.
You should be proud of yourself, and you are ready.
No matter what your next steps are, you have just accomplished something amazing. Take a moment to let that sink in. You have so much to celebrate.
Now is your time. You are ready to follow your passion and accomplish great things. No matter how long it takes you to get to where you want to be, do not let your fire burn out. Good things will happen to you if you make them happen.