Real World Rules: 5 Lessons I've Learned Since College Graduation

by Christian Lim

Ten years have passed since I graduated from UCLA in the summer of 2005, and I am a much different person now.

What happened? Life.

The post-graduate 20-something life is one of many firsts: first real paycheck, first time living alone, first time going up to a stranger at a bar, first international trip.

From these past 10 years, there are five life lessons I’ve learned:

1. Avoid Debt At All Costs

Graduating college seems relatively easy now, but at the time, I remember feeling relieved and rather accomplished.

Nothing ushers in the next stage of post-graduate life quite like being thousands of dollars in debt.

I didn’t think twice about the financial aid I accepted when I was in college or how I would definitely have to pay back most of it.

To this day, I have to account for a monthly payment toward repaying my student loans. It can be a harsh lesson, but it's a valuable one.

Avoid debt, especially debt that requires paying interest. Of course, there can be exceptions, like a home loan, but less debt means more freedom.

2. Keeping Friends Requires Work

Growing up, most of my friendships were born out of convenience. Proximity was a major foundation, and we either went to school together or lived near one another.

In college, we all lived in the dorms and took the same classes.

Perhaps what bonded us more than proximity was that we were all in the same stage of life. After college, we begin to traverse our own unique life paths.

Friends move further away, step into different social circles and follow separate schedules.

Staying friends is more difficult as an adult. During school, we simply showed up, and our friends were there.

Now, we have to put forth the effort and set aside time in our busy lives to meet up.

3. Self-Awareness Is Key

Knowing ourselves is one thing, but developing perceptions of those around us is another.

Still, knowing how we are perceived by others is another thing entirely.

In the poker game of life, everyone can see the cards on the table.

We know what cards are in our hands, and some of us can even correctly decipher what cards the other players at the table will hold.

But, do we have the ability to determine what the other players think we have, and are we purposefully influencing their thoughts about the strength or weakness of our hands?

Whether it’s impressing upper management in the workplace or building attraction with someone at a bar, I’ve learned to be conscious of “table image.”

Body language, eye contact and words spoken about others are all pieces of the puzzle people put together to formulate their opinions of us. Being aware of the subconscious messages we send can be a powerful tool.

4. Embrace Your Relationship Status

Throughout the past 10 years, I spent about half being single and the other half in relationships.

Being single during my 20s was a great thing. For the first time, I had a steady income and plenty of free time to do whatever I wanted. I reconnected with old friends and met many new people along the way.

Fully immersing into “the scene” as a single man was an invaluable experience.

I approached women and came to the realization that things like getting a girl’s phone number or being turned down at a club weren’t a big deal.

Being in a relationship is also an incredible thing. As we evolve and change, what we look for in a partner may also change and become more defined. I developed a clearer picture of not only what I can offer as a partner, but what I wanted in one as I got older.

Whether it’s a simple dinner and movie date night or a three-week backpacking adventure in Europe, having someone to share these experiences with is something to be treasured.

5. Change Is Inevitable

For the most part, we can look back every 10 years and be surprised by how we’ve changed as people.

We may grow tired of certain aspects of our lives while discovering new interests.

Certain circumstances may arise, like an unfortunate death in the family or a new job opportunity, that will drastically affect the way we live on a daily basis.

I’ve realized I should expect the unexpected, and some form of change is always around the corner.

For many of us who were fortunate enough to have a stable upbringing, life moved at a steady and predictable pace.

We had a set schedule of classes, knew our friends would be around and were determined college was the next step.

After college, there is more choice and more ownership over our lives. We have to make our own decisions and be ready for anything that comes our way.

The untold truth about life is that people usually don’t discover themselves in college.

This is a process that continues throughout our 20s, and I suspect there is much more self-discovery to come in the future.