My little bro is graduating from college in a couple of weeks. In addition to making me feel hella old (cool word choice), this also means I’ve been out of college for four years. Basically, I am just finishing up my senior year of Not Being in College. Whoa. As someone who only recently (as in, in the past year) even figured out the remotest idea what she wants to do with her life, I look back on that time immediately after graduating and cringe. The year or so after college, I felt basically the same way I did in 7th grade. I don’t mean that anything actually terrible happened, but the headspace I was in was pretty mopey, depressed, and awful. Even though I know I just had to figure stuff out on my own and no amount of advice would ever have helped me, here’s a list anyway. These are the things I WISH I knew when I graduated from college:
1. It’s okay to not have it figured out.
I lived in fear of one question after college: “So what’s next?” I had no idea what was next. I followed my impractical heart in college and majored in Creative Writing, which didn’t exactly guarantee me a traditional job. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do in the next week, let alone the rest of my life. I wish I’d known that this was normal. It is OKAY to be unsure. It’s absurd, anyway, that we’re supposed to choose the path for our whole life when we’re 18 and then follow it forever. I wish I’d had the confidence to tell people, “I don’t know yet!”
2. No one else has it figured out, either.
I thought I was the only one who felt totally lost and confused. I thought that all of my friends and fellow students had it all together and all figured out. Only recently have I realized that they totally didn’t! Just like me, a lot of my friends have really started doing what they want in the past year or so (or they’ll figure it out in the next year or so, I’m positive).
3. It is okay to not go to grad school.
Picture it: a graduation party, 2008. My best friend and I eating sweet, sweet cake while talking to another friend’s dad. Best friend was about to start graduate school, as was the friend whose party we were attending. Friend’s dad then good-naturedly said, “Aren’t any of you guys ever going to stop going to school?”
Cue me, sinking into a puddle of despair and feeling like an idiot because I was most certainly not going to school anymore. It really did seem like everyone in the world was, though. This bothered me so much that I actually started applying to grad school! I don’t know why I did this. The only thing I was even remotely interested in studying was writing (still practical, after all these years!), but a little voice in my head let me know that I wasn’t interested in pursuing literary fiction. I just knew that wasn’t for me, but since I didn’t know what was, I figured I’d better go to grad school like everybody else. About halfway through the application process, I realized this was everything I’d hated about school, and I basically gave up (I half-assedly finished my application to one school and gave up on all the others). I wish I’d been strong enough to realize that I didn’t have to go to grad school just because everyone else was before I beat myself up about it.
4. Don’t listen to anyone (unless they’re doing what you want to do).
As you’ve likely deduced, I want to be a writer. Or, rather, I am a writer, but I want to be a successful writer. I knew this was what I wanted to do when I graduated, even if I didn’t consciously know it, but instead of trying to follow the career path of creative-types I followed the advice of non-creative-types. This was my mistake, not theirs. They were all just trying to give me advice that served them and their goals. But what makes sense for a business professional does not make sense for someone who wants to write books. Not to say that you can’t find good advice everywhere, but as a professor once told me, be a filter, not a sponge. Be strong in your convictions!
My hometown isn’t a place where creativity is necessarily valued. There, they will be much more impressed if you marry early, buy a house, start a family and get a 9-to-5. When I lived there, I ran into people every day who wanted to tell me how to achieve that goal. That’s all well and good if that’s what you want, but it didn’t make sense for me. The people in your life (this can include family, friends, or whoever) want what’s best for you, but they don’t necessarily know what that is. You do. So if you need to take an unpaid internship in your dream field and work a totally shitty job at night to pay your bills, go for it. If you need to work an unimpressive job during the day so you can work on your calling at night, do it! They’ll understand what you’re doing later, when you’re happy and working hard. Or maybe they won’t, but who cares?
5. Everyone’s path is different.
That’s it! Everyone’s path is different. This is something I say all the damn time, and it’s true. We’ll all probably figure it out eventually. Or not! Either way, there’s nothing we can do about it, so we might as well do something instead of sitting around worrying about our “future.” Oh, me in 2008. How much you have yet to learn. This all makes me cringe to think about what me in 2016 will be thinking. Just kidding, the world will be long gone by then!
Image via Natalie Dee