9 Harsh Realities About Graduating College That I Wish Someone Had Warned Me About
Graduation season is upon us, and the impending reality of entering the “real world” is dangerously near. Sure, there’s a lot to celebrate leaving behind: those years of eating gross dining hall food, the bad roommates, the hours of required reading. But there's a lot to be nervous about too.
Growing up, graduating college, and being an adult is kind of like being a cat: You can sort of survive on your own ... but it would be nice to have someone to help you out. When I graduated, I was lucky in that I knew my parents would be there for support if I needed it. But for all intents and purposes, I was a truly independent adult. I worked full time and had my own apartment to call home. There would be no more three month long summer vacations or winter breaks; instead I had 10 vacation days to ration throughout an entire calendar year. I even made my own doctor's appointments!
The thing is, I knew all of that would happen. It's not like I graduated college and entered the real world like a naive newborn baby. But the shock of adulthood sometimes hits you with the little things: realizing you are literally working for the weekend, Googling the difference between 401K plans, thinking of excuses to skip something that aren't about having too much homework.
I got an earful of advice about how life would change when I graduated college, but here are some things I didn't hear then that I wish someone told me.
1. Getting a grown-up job right away is overrated.
I remember the overwhelming anxiety as graduation crept nearer. I needed a job. The last thing I wanted was to go home and face countless questions about what I was doing with my life and that expensive degree from everyone I knew.
I landed something at the last-minute, and started a month after commencement. But what I learned after a few months was that being a working professional is hard — and that month break I had between school and my first job was not enough time. I realized that maybe it wouldn't have been so bad to be like some people I knew who were temporarily waiting tables or babysitting, taking much needed time to breathe between going from one high pressure environment to another.
My advice? Don’t feel ashamed of taking a job as a server or a bartender or nanny. It pays your bills while you’re still looking, and rather than rushing straight into adulthood, you have a little bit of freedom.
2. You'll probably have to pursue your passions during your off-time.
If what you love to do is writing or singing or acting — most creative things, actually — there’s a very real chance that you won’t be able to make a living doing that right away. You might have to take a day job to support yourself.
Most of my friends are writers, but that's not what we do during the day. We work in social media or marketing or finance because that's how we can afford to live in New York. It's a difficult balancing act, and often tiring, but one I'm not willing to give up just yet. You can face reality and continue to follow your dreams at the same time. You just have to work a little harder at it.
3. 'The First Job 15' is very real — and a lot harder to lose than the Freshman 15.
Despite keeping the same clean eating and exercise habits that worked for me in college, I gained some extra weight in my first year of work, and so did a lot of my friends and fellow newly-employed office buddies.
Your metabolism just ain’t what it was at 18. And when you get an office job, you might find that there’s always a catered lunch, or that it seems like it’s somebody’s birthday at least once a week. Between all the free food, the Seamless lunches, and sitting all day, it’s easy to overdo it. Just keep your snacking in check and exercise a little and you’ll be fine.
4. The novelty of your first job wears off quickly.
Look at you, you’re doing it! You’re adulting! You’re responsible for reports and business things. You’re getting a regular bi-weekly paycheck! This youthful enthusiasm will soon fade when you begin to think about how this routine — wake up, commute, work, come home, sleep, repeat — varies little day to day, and you’ll be doing it for the rest of your life. Suddenly, actually being an adult doesn’t sound so fun anymore.
I noticed how I fell into a monotonous routine and longed for the days of college where my self-created schedule meant that every day was different. I came home exhausted every night, and found that weeknight plans meant struggling the next day. Suddenly, being an adult didn't seem so great anymore.
5. Working all the time will not make you rich.
I felt a rush of pride and excitement when I got my first "adult" check. It wasn't just the amount that overwhelmed me; it was what it meant. I was an independent young professional, and this was the first sign of that. Then I watched, month after month, as rent, Metro Card, utilities, and groceries ate it all away.
Unfortunately, just because you work all the time, that doesn't mean you'll have a bunch of disposable income. Assuming you're now supporting yourself, you'll just have more expenses.
6. You will envy your friends in grad school, and they will envy you.
Immediately after graduating, you will boast about how you don’t miss papers or studying or sitting in boring three hour long lectures. But once you become familiar with the daily pressures of adulting and professional jobs, none of that seems so bad anymore. You’ll look at your friends in grad school and envy how they seem to be delaying adulthood. Those friends, however, are looking back at you with envy. You’re the one who doesn’t have to still write theses while racking up more student debt.
There are days where I consider joining my friends at grad school. I could study things I love again, feeling like there was less pressure to get good grades, because hey, I already have some sort of college degree to fall back on. Then I will open a Snapchat story chronicling a day at the library or a frantic text about writing a dissertation that's already a hundred pages long, asking me to trade places, and that desire quickly disappears. The grass is always gonna be greener.
7. You're not going to find your dream job right away.
Gone are the days of our parents, where they walked in the door at a company upon graduation and stuck with them until retirement. Job hopping is normal for our generation. This is our time to explore different opportunities and find out what we like — and don’t like — before we get settled into one set path.
I have had the same job for two years, and compared to most people, I'm the anomaly, not the norm. Friends and former classmates are on their second, third, even fourth jobs already. Some have moved to other cities for new jobs, some have moved back home. We're 23 and 24 years old. We don't have kids or a mortgage or spouses to hold us back from hopping around until we find something we like. These are the years when you can explore what makes you happy without restraint — use them.
8. It's normal to lose some of your friends.
It’s normal to find that you lose some of your college friends when you realize the only thing you really had in common was that science lab. Friendships end, and it's not always a fight that causes it. It's the constantly postponed brunch plans, the unreturned texts. A slow fade away. I have already lost touch with many of my friends from high school and college. We just aren't the same people we were back then.
But making friends — especially in a large city like New York — isn't as easy as it once was. It took me awhile to find my people. Sign up for a class, talk to your coworkers' friends at happy hour, even go online. Friends are out there, you just have to look a bit for them. Hopefully, the friends you gain in your 20s will be people you are friends with because you share the same interests, not the same schedule.
9. You will doubt everything.
“Did I really spend four years of my life studying this? I don’t even like doing this,” you might think. It’s so easy to scroll through your Facebook feed and see your peers’ updates about their idyllic lives and perfect jobs. Here’s the truth: no one is exactly as they seem on social media, and we’re all kind of questioning if we are following the right path.
My friends and I kept up the "everything is fine and great" charade for a few months before we caved, spilling our secret frustrations with each other. One spent every day crying in the office bathroom (hey, who hasn't been there?), desperately wanting to quit. Another realized that her dream job in politics was actually soul-sucking. I question my choices on near-daily basis — am I living where I want to, am I happy with my work?
Confessing — and hearing everyone else's confessions — was a relief. Each of us put on a facade, convincing everyone online that our lives were great, when reality was much different. Of course, not everyone is faking it on social. Some people really are living the dream. Try not to compare yourself to others, but know that you are not alone.
Images: HBO; Giphy