It?s not as magical as you thought it would be.
?We hurry over the road that stretches from childhood to maturity only to discover that its most beautiful scenery escaped our vision.? -James Lendall Basford
As a young college freshman, I had grand delusions of what life would be life after graduation.
I imagined a beautiful life for myself, a life with a fianc or a husband, living in my own apartment or starter home with the white picket fence, driving my new car to my new fabulous job. I imagined a world of freedom. A world without curfews and tests and papers and professors telling me where to be and when to be there.
As I settled into my class routine and the assignments began to pile up that first semester, I found myself pining for the freedom I believed that would await me the day I threw that black cap in the air. I, like so many of my classmates, was already looking forward to graduation.
So we began to prepare for that fated day. We took all the right classes and joined clubs and completed internships and beefed up our resumes. We devoted our time and energy to perfecting our GPA?s and our professors stood in front of the whiteboard and begged us to slow down.
They smiled sadly when we said we longed to graduate. ?You?re going to miss it,? they said, and we didn?t believe them.
Soon enough, we answered that last bubble, that last essay question on our last final and waited with bated breath to hear that yes, we had passed all of our senior year classes after all.
We could graduate.
And so we walked down that plush green lawn next to the library one final time. We left our quiet, idyllic campuses behind and unlike the pomp and circumstance of graduation, we were shoved, rather abruptly and unceremoniously into a cold world that our countless years of education had never really prepared us for.
Because the truth is, there are some things that no one bothers to tell you about life after graduation.
It?s really hard.
I spent most of the first few weeks, and If I?m being completely honest, the first few months after graduation as a tearful, anxious mess.
Surprisingly, the initial freedom of post-grad life is overwhelming. Without the structure of school, schedules, and assignments, I found myself floundering a lot of the time. I didn?t know what to do with myself and so I often found myself alone with nothing and no one, but my thoughts and fears.
No one tells you how lonely it is to leave your friends behind. No one tells you how much you?ll miss your favorite professors. No one tells you that maybe, along the way, you had fallen in love with schooling and learning.
No one tells you that it?s important to keep yourself busy during that gap between school and employment or travel or that year you take to volunteer. No one tells you it?s the only way to keep sane.
Additionally, after the immediate joy of graduation wears off the reality that you have looming bills and loans to pay and that it was now time to find a job hits hard.
Worst of all, no one is college really prepares you for what the job search is like. All those courses and internships and hours you spent sitting at those tables with career services advisors can?t possibly prepare you for the inevitable heartache and overwhelming pain of rejection after rejection.
Because the truth is, when you?re starting out, it?s really hard to find a job. And not just a job in your field, but any job. You lack skills and experience. You don?t really know how to write a cover letter or interview. These are skills you can only learn by practicing them in the real world.
So you?ll beat yourself up a lot because you?ll feel like a failure. You won?t understand why you keep facing rejection. You won?t understand what you?re doing wrong. You?ll be angry and bitter and wish you had not wasted four years and thousands of dollars on an education.
You?ll compare yourself to all your friends who seem to have the perfect job at the perfect company while you work at Target or wait tables or bartend every weekend.
You?ll be tired and exhausted and worry about what is going to happen when that first bill comes in the mail. No one tells you that your first few months out of college are spent in ?survival mode.? You?re trying to learn how to live again. You?re learning how to survive as an adult. It?s a really big, really hard transition to make.
And it?s perfectly okay to struggle for a while.
Because I promise, eventually you?ll figure it out. It starts to get better. You get used to your new life outside of school. You stop crying so much. You stop being so angry. You start to see that going to college was a privilege. You revalue your education and the experiences you had as a student.
You realize that maybe, just maybe, you shouldn?t have been so eager to leave it all behind.
Because the truth is, being an adult is not glamorous.
It usually doesn?t involve the handsome husband and the brand new starter home and the shiny car you imagined as a young adult.
It involves a lot of bills and work responsibilities. It involves a lengthy commute and boring hour long meetings. There?s a lot of housekeeping involved and cooking and cleaning and finally a lot of sitting around the house.
You don?t have as much energy or free time and so you don?t see your friends so much anymore. You don?t spend each weekend in a cloudy, alcohol induced haze. Eventually, it becomes a chore to go to the bar. You don?t want to party. Instead you want to stay at home and cuddle with your dog.
The truth is that life after graduation can be really, really boring most of the time. And if you want your life to be interesting and fun you have to work to make it that way. You have to find the things that make life worth living. You have to explore and be creative. You have to put your talents to good use. You have to make a concentrated effort to work for more than what most people are willing to settle for.
The real world is the ultimate classroom.
I learned a lot in school. I learned a lot about psychology and calculus and how to write research papers. I learned how to stand in front of a classroom full of people and speak without wanting to puke and while all of these skills are valuable in the real world and may even help you to get a job, you don?t realize that you will continue to learn a whole heck of a lot when you?re not in school anymore. And honestly, no one tells you that you learn more than school could ever teach you.
You learn a lot about yourself. You learn what makes you happy. You learn what you?re really good at. You learn what you?re bad at too and even what you hate. You learn what issues are important to you. You learn about dozens of other people. You learn how to have healthy relationships and how to manage family troubles and take care of other living things. You learn empathy and compassion too.
Each crappy job and each crappy relationship or friendship teaches you more about what you want and what you don?t want out of life.
At first, you will stumble.
But with each step you?ll find yourself getting closer and closer to where you?re supposed to be
And most importantly you learn that life is not a staircase or a ladder or a series of perfectly synchronized steps, but a winding road with branches and forks and deadends.
Each part of your journey is important. Each adventure teaches you valuable lessons and each struggle makes you that much stronger.
Most importantly, no one tells you originally that it gets better.
It may take a while.
Years if I?m being honest.
But you eventually learn how to navigate this world as a life long learner and not just as a student.
You learn how to be an employee, a writer, a traveler, a wife, a mother, an activist or whatever it is you want to be one day.
You learn that there is beauty in every thing. You learn that you are strong.
Most importantly, you learn that life is what you make of it.