Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Post-grad Year One: 8 Things I Wish I'd Thought About Sooner

When I graduated from college, I didn't have much idea what to expect. During the first 22 years of life, the path is obvious for most people like me. You go to high school, go to college, pick a major, and learn stuff. Then you graduate. The first year of post-grad is hard for a lot of people because it doesn't turn out like they hoped. (I know that because I had a lot of friends a year or two older than I who thought so.) And of course, I went to grad school, so some people would argue that my supposed "post-grad" isn't post-grad at all. But I don't have time for naysayers, so I present to you: 8 things I wish I'd known before I graduated from college.

1. Despite what people say, college is part of the legendary"real world." 
"College is not the real world," well-intentioned people said to me a lot during my four-year time at my first University. Actually, college isn't another dimension; it's a part of life. I get it—they were trying to say that college is different from having a full-time job. Well, then say that. Stop saying it's not the "real world" like earning a four-year degree is akin to spending time in the Twilight Zone. (Besides, I worked in college, so I feel like that made my experience quite different from what some people do: take 15 credits and spend the rest of the time getting slobbering drunk and making poor decisions.)

2. Everything you experience is both a part of life and a preparation for something else.
People often say: "College is a preparation time for the rest of your life." True, but high school was a preparation for college. And your first years in the business world will be your preparation for years later in your career. All the years leading up to college graduation are not solely preparation, while the day after graduation the "real thing" magically starts. The truth is, everything—including college—is both a part of life and a preparation for something else. I think it's important to both live in the present and prepare for the future.

3. Budgeting is awesome, and even a little saving can go a long way.
In college, I didn't budget much because I didn't really have money. But now that I occasionally have enough money to buy a stick of gum, budgeting is one of my favorite things. When I first moved into my apartment, I constructed a rigid budget I intended to follow. For five months I kept track of literally every penny I spent. Once I was confident I was going to be able to suppress random urges to buy a ticket to New Zealand over fall break, I stopped keeping track of the money I spent. Now when I want to buy coffee or something, I don't feel guilty about it.

4. You aren't obligated to move away from your college town.
For some reason in college I thought that graduating from my University meant I was obligated to get a job in my field in some other state and live in an apartment by myself hundreds of miles from anyone I knew. Stupid, right? If you want to do that, great! If not, that's fine, too. One of my friends said it well (paraphrased): "We spent all this time building a community and forming connections here; why move away if we don't want to?" Also, the first place you move after college doesn't have to be where you stay forever. Which brings me to...

5. The first thing you do after college doesn't have to be what you do forever.
"What are you going to do after college?" the well-intentioned people ask. What I heard was: "How do you want to spend the next 40 years of your life?" Silly, right? Yes. Don't know what to do after college? Pick something! Don't like it? Do something else! That's totally allowed.

6. Graduating from college doesn't mean the fun is over or that you have to be boring.
Yes, I know. If you work 40 hours per week, especially if you have to get up early all the time, you might be too tired to go on Taco Bell runs at 2 a.m. like you did in college. And yes, in college, socializing, having fun, and doing a variety of activities is really easy. But now you just have to make time for what is important to you and be intentional about it. I don't exactly hit up 4 parties every week, but I don't spend 30 hours per week watching TV alone and wonder why friends don't magically materialize in my living room.

7. Leaving college doesn't mean you automatically have everything in order and never make a mistake again.
I know, I know. Some people graduate college and immediately marry the perfect person, move into a lovely apartment, and immediately get an awesome job. But even those people will have hardships and make mistakes. Some of us will graduate from college and apply to 35 jobs and not hear back from any of them. Some of us will have no idea what we want to do and subsequently spend a year working as an alpaca farmer in a foreign country. Some of us will forget to pay a bill or oversleep or burn the grilled cheese or mess up a presentation. It happens. It's okay.

8. Post-grad can be awesome!
It seems like older people try to scare college students about post-grad by talking about bills and full-time jobs and complications, etc. Sure, there are bad things about the years following college, but there were annoying things about college, too, remember? Like studying for 13 hours for exams, writing papers on topics you didn't care about, and having to buy the dollar shampoo because you couldn't afford anything else. Each part of life has pros and cons. Make post-grad awesome.

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