It’s that time of year. All over the country graduates are ironing their gowns, straightening their hats, and flipping their tassels as they walk across that stage and pray the announcer doesn’t slaughter their name.
About a year ago I was one of those students. After waking to my roommate frantically telling me I had overslept and was going to miss graduation, I threw on my cap and gown, brushed my teeth, and unapologetically sped to the coliseum just in time to hop in line for the procession. Considering that exact scenario occurred every morning of my college career (minus the cap and gown), it was only fitting that I exit in that fashion.
I remember receiving my diploma, wide-eyed and full of anticipation for whatever was to come next, because up until this point, there had always been a guideline – an understood instruction manual telling me where to go, what to do, and for how long to do it. But now…now I got to call the shots, and the thought of the entire world being at my fingertips – well, it didn’t frighten me in the least.
But it should have…because I had no clue what I was getting into. The fact that I couldn’t even get myself to graduation on time should have been my first sign that I was nowhere near ready to be a grown-up. Because the thing no one tells you is that the first year of adult life is hard. So I have taken it upon myself to write a letter – a letter to the me I was one year ago explaining a few truths about life after graduation. And if they ever perfect time-travel, you can bet that May 5, 2012 will be my first stop, and here’s what I’ll say:
Congratulations on your newfound adulthood! Never again will you have to sit through a three-hour science class or pray your way through a test you forgot about or stay up all night writing a research paper on a topic you’ve never even heard of. Why? Because you are now officially a grown-up.
It’s exciting, isn’t it? The idea of chasing your dreams and determining your own destiny. You can literally do anything you want to do and be anyone you want to be. Well, hold on to that wonder and awe because things are about to get a little bit bumpy.
I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’ll just come out and say it – this year is going to be the most difficult year of your life. The moment you set foot off of that college campus, everything you know to be certain will be scattered and thrown into the wind. Of course, you won’t realize it immediately. You’ll be wrapped up in the freedom of summer, throwing yourself into your internship, making new friends, and subconsciously thinking that come fall, life will resume just as it always has. But when the leaves begin to change, and you realize that instead of packing up and heading back to school, your only option is to stay at your parents’ house until you find a real job…that’s when it will hit you.
You’ll then devote every waking moment to your job search. Writing cover letters and polishing your resume will become second nature. Every time the phone rings, you will get your hopes up, only to be disappointed when it’s your mom calling again to ask if you unloaded the dishwasher. But the call you’re so eagerly waiting for – that one’s not coming for a while. Here’s why: Employers only want to hire people with experience, of which you have none. You’ll rack your brain day and night to come up with a way to break the vicious cycle. How do you gain experience… if no one will give you experience… because you don’t have any experience? (A year later, you still will be unable to answer this question.)
The downward spiral will become even more nauseating when you seek comfort and encouragement. It is at this point you will realize that your friends who you have lived with for the past four years have begun their adult lives as well. Sleepovers and get-togethers have become a thing of the past. The friends you shared face to face conversations with multiple times a day will soon be replaced by missed calls and text messages that read, “We really need to catch up!”
The worst part is that apart from maybe your parents and a few close friends, no one will care that your life kind of sucks right now. No one will solve your problems or even tell you how to solve them yourself for that matter. Feeling embarrassed at your own inadequacy, you will think you are the only one who doesn’t have it all figured out…the only one whose life didn’t just magically fall into place after college…but you’re not. I promise you’re not.
And after only a few months in this big ruthless world, you will want to return to the bubble you had once been so eager to escape.
But you can’t go back.
And it’s a good thing, because if you returned, you’d stay in that bubble maybe for the rest of your life, and all of your ideas and desires, your dreams and possibilities, your future and your purpose would be suffocated…so you must carry on.
Because as you trudge through the muck and grime of this first year, you will learn more about yourself than you ever cared to know. Your strengths and your vulnerabilities, what motivates you and what drains you, when to hold on and when to let go, how to comfort yourself, rationalize for yourself, rejuvenate yourself, and laugh at yourself. And it doesn’t stop there. In addition to learning about yourself, you’ll get a feel for the world, the real world, and how it functions. You’ll find that friendship isn’t defined by sharing wardrobes or daily Sonic-runs, but by inconvenient road trips, midnight phone calls, and consistent assurance that when you’re truly in need, distance is no matter at all.
Oh, and you will eventually get a job, though it won’t be your dream job right off the bat. You’ll have to work your way up from the very bottom. I’m talking minimum wage, no one knows your name, stone cold bottom. But don’t be discouraged, because everyone has to start somewhere. Do the best work you can do, make the most of every opportunity, and keep your head up because in just a few short months you will start climbing that ladder to get to where you want to be. Hang in there, because it’s going to be worth it.
When the first year is over, you will look back at all of the chaos – all of the nights you couldn’t sleep, questions you couldn’t answer, and tears you couldn’t justify, and you will be thankful to be in the place this winding path has brought you to. You will be thankful for the opportunity to struggle and to grow, thankful for family and friends who allow you to bend but would never let you break, and thankful for a God who keeps it together even when you’re falling apart.
So cherish every moment, because you only get to do it once, and in hindsight it goes by pretty quickly. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself rushing home from your busy grown-up job to your new nice and comfy apartment just so you can write a time-traveling letter to the you of the past assuring yourself that it’s all going to be ok. For though this year will be filled with doubts, challenges, and insecurities…to you, it will forever be remembered as a year marked by immeasurable growth, invaluable memories, and irreplaceable adventures.