Dear Class of 2016:
Congratulations, you have entered the final days of your undergraduate career! Whether you are the star of your fraternity or sorority and are dreading your final days with your brothers and sisters or you are the person who created the graduation countdown for your class, this is a very excited and terrifying time for all of you. You have been told you have your entire lives ahead of you and nothing could be more true. However, if you are anything like I was right before graduation, then you have no idea what that actually means.
You have been in school practically your entire life; what comes next? Sure, plenty of you will go on to graduate schools to pursue your childhood dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, professors, or whatever it may be, but that is just putting off the inevitable: entering the real world as a functioning adult. This is a strange new world full of 401(k)s, full time jobs, taxes, being responsible for yourself, and adulting in general. Do you remember when you were in high school and you had your five-year plan all figured out? Well, time is almost up. Are you going to be where you thought you would be? Probably not, but that’s okay.
It’s been almost a year since I graduated and there are a couple of things I wish a recent grad had shared with me before I left the comfort of college.
1 | You probably won’t feel like an adult for awhile.
To be honest, I still don’t feel like an adult most of the time. I struggle with the need to please my parents, my boss, my coworkers, and anyone else I see as superior to me, which was basically everyone at first. There are days I go into work owning my space and knowing I belong there, but there are also days I walk in with my head down, ready to go on coffee runs as if I were an intern. It can be difficult to take charge of your career when you feel like you’re eighteen years old working in the summer for a little extra cash. Believe it or not, you don’t have to do everything your colleagues ask. Don’t be disrespectful, but if your to-do list is overloaded it is better to tell them no than to agree to something that you won’t be able to fully commit to. That’s a drastic change from being the yes-person you have always had to be in order to get a good recommendation letter. It will take some adjustment, but you’ll get the hang of it.
2 | Don’t make excuses.
There will be no more “I can do it later” or “it’s not my job” or, my personal favorite, “I’ll wake up early and do it.” These can apply to a great deal of things I have encountered since graduation: everything from buying groceries, to doing dishes that are not mine, to going to the gym, and even responding to work emails. It is important to remember: the only person accountable for your decisions is you. When you’re a student you can get away with a lot. Sure, your professor didn’t believe that your computer crashed last night and you’ve been awake ever since then trying to recover your assignment that was due today (when in reality you were just out too late at your friend’s twenty-first birthday), but most of the time they gave you a pass. In the real world, if you don’t get that report done on time, you’re fired. Don’t make life harder on yourself, just do what you need to get done.
3 | Stop trying to earn a grade.
This was probably the most difficult thing for me to adjust to when I started my job. Having just come out of the world of non-stop exams, I had no idea whether I was performing well or not. What areas did I need to improve in? What areas did I excel in? Was I earning a B-average overall? A C-average? Was I even passing? You can’t think of your job in that manner or you will go insane, trust me. No one is going to give you a gold star or a red F on your paycheck. You will most likely not receive any feedback, so stop trying to earn a grade and start trying to learn. Ask questions and take notes. At the end of the day your reward won’t be a 4.0 GPA, but rather, it will be the long-term knowledge of how to be a good employee.
4 | Ask your parents questions.
Does anyone know anything about taxes other than there’s a season for them and it stresses people out? I don’t, but my parents do. Your parents do too. They’ve been doing taxes for decades. They have also negotiated on buying homes, quit jobs, failed, succeeded, and gone through pretty much everything your life has in store for you. Let them help you. Don’t let your pride get the better of you and think that your graduation means that you’re too smart for the people that have always been there for you. If you aren’t able to ask your parents, find an experienced adult who wouldn’t mind helping you. Don’t suffer or struggle because you think that’s what is supposed to happen in your youth. You’re not alone.
5 | You’re still learning.
You may have that fancy college degree under your belt and you should be proud of it, but don’t get cocky. Despite any internship or work experience you may have on your résumé, when you land your first post-college job, you will still have a lot to learn. There is nothing worse than a new employee that thinks they know better than the seasoned professionals. You are bringing a unique view and skill set to your company, which is amazing, but don’t be a big shot. The senior level employees have a lot to teach you. Listen up and take it all in.
6 | It’s okay for everything to go your way.
There was a point in the last year when everything started to click. I was confident at work, my personal life was in order, my apartment was clean (most of the time, at least), and it caused me to panic. I thought that because everything seemed to be in order that I was missing something or that sh*t was about to hit the fan. Clearly, that wasn’t the case; but as I watched friends lose jobs, struggle at work, or be unable to pay bills, I thought that’s what was supposed to be happening to me. Life will always be throwing you new challenges, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be on top of them. It’s okay for you to have landed your dream job and for everything to just make sense. Don’t wait around expecting something bad to happen, but do start a savings fund for emergencies, just in case.
You have a lot to look forward to after graduation and you should be very excited about it. You will be learning a lot as you adjust to your new life in the post-college world, so make sure you are open to any advice people offer you. You’ll be able to function as an adult just fine, I promise.
What worries you the most about post-college life?