It’s graduation season. Right now as I write these words, it’s a bright and sunny day and I know there are college students all over the place dressed up in robes, sitting in ceremonies and walking across stages. There are families waiting through hundreds of names to cheer for that special one, groups are heading out to big dinners to celebrate and moving boxes are piled up, waiting for trucks to take them away.
I was the kind of college kid who loved the adventure with every ounce of heart and soul I could find and then some. I loved it so much, in fact, that I banished the word “senior” from the vocabulary of all my friends our last year and as graduation loomed closer and closer, the dread only built. It felt like my school and I had fallen deeply for each other, which is why I couldn’t understand this polite push they were giving me out the door.
No one told me how traumatic the transition to post-college life could be which makes me want to run up to all the college grads I see around town now, give them a big hug and tell them that they’ll get through it. Get through what exactly? Oh, just you wait and see – talk to me in a year or even two and you’ll know what I mean.
What I’ve found in the years since college is that my experiences were not unique. A lot of friends, people with dreams and goals, talented, driven people, wrestled with the same issues and confusions. Not everyone will have the same story, but I do know two things for sure: done right, college is a lot of fun and done right, adulting is hard to say the very least. Moving from the first to the second isn’t easy so with that in mind, sweet college grads, here are a few things I wish I had known when I finished school:
Toward the end of your time in college, people start to fall into two categories: those who have a plan and those who do not. Some people will be moving on to a graduate program they’ve already been accepted to. A small number of friends will have a job ready and waiting for them. And others, well, you’ll see them in just a few weeks at their wedding. Then there are others, like me, who had no idea what the next step was.
When I was about to graduate, I envied friends who were headed to medical school, teachers who had a classroom waiting for them, accounting majors who had had a job lined up for months. None of them were lying awake at night, afraid of what they would be doing in a few months’ time. The hard truth though is that no one gets a free pass into adulthood. Everyone has challenges to meet so whether you have plans or not, even if you are the only one in your group of friends to not have an answer to the terrible “So what’s next?” question, it’s okay. Breathe. Having no plans is incredibly scary, but it’s also unbelievably exciting. For the first time, you have nothing waiting for you to get to. The world is holding every option in front of you and saying, pick a place, pick a dream! Let’s get to the adventure of living your own life.
This leads me to the next important matter, one that you would do well to start preaching to yourself now: When you and your friends walked across your graduation stage, it was the last time you’ll cross a starting gate together. For years you’ve kept in step thanks to being in the same grade at school and for the most part, you’ve hurdled the same transitions together, but this is the last time you’ll all be in exactly the same place. From this point on, people will get jobs at different times, develop passions and careers at different speeds. Everyone will have their own timing for falling in love, getting married, seeing the world, experiencing tragedies, buying homes and growing families. Your timelines may no longer match up but that does not mean one of you is living a better, richer life. You run in the places, heart spaces, people groups and gifts that God has given you and cheer your friends on as they do the same. You are all running different races now, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need each other – it’s quite the opposite actually. Make a point to celebrate each other’s the mile markers together.
Next, when your car is packed to the ceiling and you’re heading out of your college town, it’s okay to be sad. If you even want to cry, go for it. Two days after I graduated, I filled my car with what the U-Haul hadn’t already taken home with my parents and made one last stop before leaving town at my favorite coffee shop. After getting my drink and shrugging of the slight suspicion that I was now a has-been, I got back in my car and in less than three seconds had thrown myself over the passenger seat sobbing. I mean, it was shoulder-shaking, can’t-see-straight, the-world-is-ending sobbing. After a few minutes (or a half-hour, who’s counting?), I pulled myself together enough to safely drive home, but I cried the entire hour and a half drive, and then I cried the rest of the night too. Walking out of an experience that has been unimaginably transformative, out of a town and school that you deeply love and away from a life filled with best friends and ridiculous shenanigans at every hour is a lot to leave. Add to it that you’re heading into a vague future and new way of life and it’s no wonder you’re sad. You have all the permission to miss it even though it’s only been over for two days. You’re headed into the rest of your life and from the outside, it’s inconceivable, but like my mom told me, you’ll feel better in the morning.
And yet, while you might emotionally have it more together the next day that doesn’t mean that the next step will be waiting for you with your morning coffee. Transitions take time. Dreams take time. Answers take time. Your life, whether or not you know your next step, will not be built overnight or by the end of the summer. The process of building your own life requires patience, grit, hope, forgiveness, grace (mostly towards yourself), love, prayer and work. You are not doing it wrong because it feels unsure or unsteady. Truly, it can be excruciating at times, but here, in the plowing, in the figuring out, in the praying and waiting, in the trying and trying again, this is where you find the good and real life you’ve been waiting for.
And as you wait, embrace where you are. If you find yourself back in your childhood bedroom or job hunting with nothing to do but nap and visit coffee shops the rest of the day – embrace it. If you have parents gracious enough to let you come home, have family dinners together, get to know them and their daily lives again. If you are job hunting like a madwoman, but haven’t landed the job yet, keep at it but don’t beat yourself up. Remember: You have your own timeline to keep. Your story will be different than the rest of us. One day soon, you will be over your head with projects and deadlines and you’ll dream of an afternoon where you could take a nap and read a book. You’ll get there when you get there so please enjoy the benefits you find along the way.
Television and movies lied to us. Rare (actually, never) are the people, fresh out of college who:
-Land their dream job which, of course, pays $100,000
-Live in a sprawling city loft
-Have an amazing, eclectic, tight-knit group of new friends
-Feel completely at home in the world
Don’t believe it and don’t feel bad because it’s not your life. There’s a good chance that life is actually going to get quiet … realllllllll quiet. Without roommates and friends and classes, without group projects and social events to fill your schedule, things come to an abrupt halt. And when the screech stops, it may be just you for a while. Remember the part above about jobs and plans taking time? Well, in the midst of that waiting you’re going to be tempted to feel like you’re on your own in this great big world. Along with that, as the waiting and trying stretches on, you may be tempted to think that God isn’t working in this newly quiet life of yours. You felt Him in the community, home and places you had in college, but out here in unchartered territory, well, it all feels different. It’s here and now that you need to throw yourself into the deep waters of the Bible like never before. Let the words of God’s presence wash over you and let Him teach you more about who He is and more about the life He’s making for you right now. He is with you. Lean in and hold tight.
Now, my sweey graduates, if all of this has made you run under the covers, come on out because I have one last thing to tell. Post-college life is hard at first – let me go back, I can’t handle this hard – but it’s also the boldest of beginnings. In a few years, if you do the hard work of pressing forward and leaning in to God, you’ll look around and find that a lot has changed. The people that used to fill the details of your everyday life as classmates, roommates and friends have spread out and are pursuing what they love, living what they believe, rolling up their sleeves and going about the business of a thoughtful life and yet, if you do the work of cheering each other on, the friendships will still be there. Your lives will all be different, but that’s okay. In fact, it makes it all the more exciting. This is the wild time when no two of you will be in the exact same place. So instead, make time to meet up, catch up, learn the details of each other’s normal and cheer each other on.
You can do it, my college grads. I know you can and I’m cheering you on from here.