Once you've graduated university you're basically thrown to the pack of wolves that is life. No handbook, no training course, just a framed piece of paper reminding you of your student debt. While it may seem hard to get your ball rolling, here are a few things I wish someone had told me when I graduated.
1. It's okay to not know.
There seems to be this notion among graduates that you have to know what you want to do immediately. As if walking across that stage crosses you over a bridge into clarity. Nope. It's okay to be unsure and a little bit scared. I mean, don't let it overpower your life. But a little bit of uneasiness is a good thing.
It means you care! Imagine if you graduated and were like "Ah, yep. This couch at my parents' house seems as good as any to plant my roots for the rest of eternity." Then there would be cause for concern. Take a deep breath. You're okay. And you'll figure it out.
2. You're going to hate family gatherings for a while.
Just because it's okay to not know your path, doesn't mean your family won't ask you. It's been 2 years since I graduated and I still get the "So what are you doing with your life?" talk. What am I doing? Currently I'm trying to avoid a physical altercation with you for asking me that, Aunt Beverly.
Your family means well, they do. But they don't always understand how brutally annoying it can be to have every holiday shift focus and become an interrogation. Have some answers lined up before you arrive. My favorite was always "I'm just staying busy right now, trying not to have too much free time." AKA marathon-ing yet another show on Netflix.
3. Don't feel pressured to get married/start a serious relationship
My parents were 25 and 23 when they got married. That blows my mind. At age 23 I was working part-time at a shoe store living at my parents' house just trying to pay off my student loans. When I was younger I always thought I would get married really young. All I wanted was a family. But honestly, being single while trying to figure my life out has been a blessing.
There's no planning around anyone, no factoring them in to your future or even just your weekly schedule. It means you can look for jobs anywhere. You can make a decision to up and run away to a far away place for a bit. It also means you can lay in bed eating a piece of cheesecake with no judgement, so really it's a win-win.
4. For the love of God, don't compare yourself to your friends
I went to school in a big city and moved back home after graduation. It meant I got to save money, be with family, and go back to my familiar life. I loved it. Unfortunately it meant fewer job opportunities for me. But my friends that stayed in the city were hired almost right out of the gate. Do you understand how frustrating it is to watch people who literally graduated two people behind you get full-time jobs in your field? Yeah sure, you're happy for them. They're your friends. But when your greatest accomplishment is not falling asleep after your morning shift, it can get a little old.
So that's why I'm telling you DO NOT compare yourself to them. Your time will come, I promise. But everyone is presented with different opportunities. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. Sometimes it's just as dried up and brown as your own.
5. Don't over-work yourself to overcompensate for not working in your field
When I graduated I had racked up just about $50,000 in student debt. I know. Ouch. Couple that with only being able to find part-time retail work and it's a recipe for a meltdown. Now, I was lucky because I was living at home and didn't have that many expenses. But I still felt that if I wasn't going to be working full-time, I needed to work two jobs to make up for it. I was averaging about 60 hours a week between the two jobs.
No days off, no vacation, one job in the morning and the other at night. I just felt guilty for not doing what I deemed to be "acceptable" post-graduation work. Eventually I hit a wall...hard. I had to take a step back and evaluate which was more important: my work or my mental well-being. I obviously chose the latter. Just because you aren't doing what you thought you'd be doing doesn't mean you're doing the wrong thing.
6. You're allowed to change your mind
I think one of the biggest struggles of recent graduates is feeling trapped in the degree you studied. You've spent all this time and money focusing on one area and then one day you just aren't feeling it anymore. I know it's easier said than done to say "Hey, just go back to school and take something you love." Money isn't an unlimited commodity right now and frankly you already thought you took what you loved.
But here's the thing: the world is changing. You have so many options for school now it's crazy. Not sure what you want to do? Try an online course. Not a whole degree, just a course. See if that helps put your brain at ease. It's okay to grow and change as a person. Don't suppress that feeling after you've graduated just to please everyone around you. If you would like to become a beekeeper, you have every right to do so. Your current degree in molecular biology shouldn't hold you back.
7. Make good friends
This one sounds so simple, but having good relationships around you is so important after graduating. You start to realize who you were friends with out of convenience, and who actual cares for your well-being. It's okay to cut people out of your life. It happens. It doesn't mean you or them are bad people, it just means it's time to go different directions.
Find a friend who will tell you like it is when you're in a rough place. Sugar-coating helps no one, but neither does being rude. Finding friends who can handle you and understand your frustrations is one of the best ways to combat post-graduation stress. Find yourself friends who can tell you when you're being ridiculous, but also show up at your house with a bag of McDonald's fries because they know you've had a bad day.
8. Give Yourself A Break
In today's world, being a graduate is tough. Everyone tells you how much potential there is, but unless you have 89 years of experience in your field you'll be hard-pressed to find a job you want. That's okay. It's not just you. If you walked up to 10 new grads right now I bet you 7 of them would feel just as bad as you do.
Take some time to treat yourself. Go to a movie. Buy a new outfit. Nap. Whatever it is you need to unwind. You're going to be okay. I promise. And if you're not, well then I guess that couch at your parents place will be waiting for you.