This Is Real Life: How To Still Feel In Control After You Graduate
'Tis the season for college graduation.
As college seniors cross stages all over the country, I couldn't help but think back on how my own college story ended.
I clutched on to my college course schedule and overcrowded dorm space like it was the only thing I had left in this world; I wondered where the time went, why I couldn't go back in time to be a freshman again and what, since then, I've done with my life.
The last trudge through my last finals week felt all at once sentimental and anxious.
My time may have passed, but it's stayed close by, immortalized by the vivid memory of one story ending, another beginning.
The final week of college was your last opportunity to celebrate without consequence (or, at the very least, without your parents knowing what time you come home), so we celebrated our way through senior week events, goodbyes and the fateful day mid-May when our undergraduate careers came to a close.
The vast, mysterious hole of "Post-Grad Life" lingered over our heads like storm clouds rolling in for a heavy summer rain.
We all wondered if we'll ever find our real purpose; if we'd ever have this much fun ever again; if we'd ever truly feel like adults.
College might've come and gone for most of us, but there are feelings that linger on long after the caps and gowns have been catapulted into the sky.
Feelings that remind us we're still in control even if we don't have a class schedule to adhere to.
You can, quite literally, do anything.
Life is your oyster. You'll truly never have more freedom than you do right now.
The real world is shiny and new and in need of exploring. Immediately after college, I had friends take off to travel around Southeast Asia, taking classes and taking off on cross-country road trips throughout local villages.
Others took more structured journeys. enrolling in master's programs, excited to sit in more classrooms, do more assignments and learn infinitely more about their field of interest.
I also had friends who dove right into the 9-to-5 office grind, working in office cubicles, non-profits and startups, joining a routine the rest of the world already knows.
This kind of control over your destiny feels, at first, intimidating -- having unlimited options would certainly make anyone feel nervous -- but you're a freshly formed, educated human being not yet bogged down by kids, mortgage payments or serious career choices. Anything is possible.
The period between "college kid" and "real person" is a wonderful transitional in which you're still learning about who you are. Use it.
You don't have to stick to a plan.
When I was in college, I thought I had everything figured out: I'd graduate and pursue the dream I'd always planned on pursuing, and I'd be successful in that; I'd have opportunities -- great ones -- and I'd meet someone to share my life with and things would just click into place, one by one, until the puzzle was set.
College is a great place to build grand dreams for yourself and your future, but it doesn't mean it's your only option.
After you graduate, it's like the oyster opens up and gives you a preview of everything you didn't see. The map you were writing reveals a whole underbelly of new adventures and experiences. Some will take you further than you could've ever dreamed from your dorm room chair, and others will take you far in the wrong direction.
The journey is the exciting part, after all.
You can dress and act however you want.
College campuses are often breeding grounds for homogeneity.
Since everyone was secluded within the confines of the same college town and living in the same dorm rooms, attending the same events, going to the same classroom buildings and eating in the same dining halls, everyone was, well, similar.
And if your appearance or behavior strayed from your college's definition of "normal," you stuck out like a sore thumb.
In the real world, you aren't controlled by rules. There are no in-crowds, no social hierarchies, no "cool" or "uncool" ways to dress or spend your weekends.
You have the freedom to be the person you want to be... whoever he or she is. It won't always be easy to be you -- the real world isn't a kindergarten classroom where everyone is applauded just for showing up -- but it will be worth it.
Failure isn't permanent.
It isn't as easy to shake off bad interviews as it is to shake off a B- on a bio chem test. In college, you know you have more chances; in the real world, you'll feel like you don't always have that guarantee.
Trying to find a job, a place to live, a city to call home, friends to add on to the ones you left behind after leaving college can feel daunting -- like every second, every word, every breath matters so much more beyond the moment it exists in. It's overwhelming.
The differences come with time, though. You'll realize that not every failure lasts forever -- sometimes it doesn't even last more than a minute.
Sure, they might matter more to you, like being overlooked for the job you desperately wanted or being turned down for the apartment you loved, but failure isn't forever.
You have more control over your time.
In college, work time and free time blend in a stressful, disorderly haze, making you feel overworked, poorly rested and constantly dissatisfied.
If you're out with friends, there's always some homework assignment you should be doing instead. If you stay in one night to do a paper, there's always something you're definitely missing out on.
But after graduation, it was so much easier to compartmentalize your time. Work time happens when you're at work, and free time happens when you're not.
Time spent with friends in the evening or at brunch on the weekends isn't interrupted by thoughts of the problem set you're ignoring.
In the post-grad world, you can take comfort in knowing when you get home from your job and flop on your couch, you won't have any work to do until the next time you step back in your office. (That is, of course, until you start taking work home with you.)
You will get it wrong. And then you will get it right.
In the real world, you can't show up 40 minutes late to class and take refuge in the back of the room unnoticed by your teacher. At work, people will notice. They'll notice and take note. College might come with its own unique set of rules, but so does reality.
You're not going to do everything right; it's important to learn that now. Life in the real world isn't conducive to professors and instructors telling you what to do. Instead, you have to find out on your own. Part of that is getting things wrong.
The other part is getting them right. So be ready for the hiccups, the roadblocks, the bumps and the bruises, and have a support system in place to help you through. Find people you can lean on who'll keep you focused, empowered and supported.
You won't have to worry about doing life wrong.
We put a lot of pressure on our four years spent in college. They're supposed to be the "best years of our lives."
If they're not -- if they're somehow average or fine or even just good -- we feel like we've failed, like we've wasted precious time we can't ever get back.
The weight of having the best college experience rested so heavily on our shoulders.
It was easy to wonder if we were going out enough, challenging ourselves enough, meeting enough people or taking advantage of our youth enough.
After all, we only had four years, so we had to do anything and everything we could, right now, this very second -- or risk regret.
Once the caps are thrown, and the final pieces of dorm rooms or apartments moved out, however, we have all the time in the world to live our best lives.
We're not pressed for time to get it all in. We have the rest of eternity to do it.
And, best of all, it's by our standards. Now, we can truly control it all.