Congratulations, graduate! You’ve accomplished something great. Although job prospects might be grim and perhaps you’re buried under a mountain of student debt, you can still be proud of having gotten through several grueling years of higher education. Finals are over, you’ve thrown your mortarboard in the air jubilantly, and your parents have taken a zillion pictures of you in your cap and gown. With the festivities over, you may be wondering: What’s next? Well, join the club. Life after college is way great in some ways, but bleak in others. Here are five things no one bothered to tell you about post-grad life.
1. It’s harder to make friends.
College came with thousands of built-in friends. Whether you met people through your dorm, Greek life, clubs, or classes, there were ample opportunities to bond with people who were a lot like you. In the “real world,” things are a little bit different. You’re not living on the same floor as dozens of potential besties, brushing your teeth side by side every night. And you’ve probably moved away from most of those college pals. Sure, you can meet people through work, mutual friends, or activities, but it becomes a lot harder to make those instant and lasting friendships than it was in the cozy bubble of college.
2. Say goodbye to external validation.
In the classroom environment, plenty of things exist to tell you whether or not you’re doing a good job. From grades to professor feedback, you have constant sources of validation that, yes, you’re doing this whole learning thing right. In the working world, you might go a long time without this kind of feedback. Maybe your workplace has programs to reward good work, but most often good work is meant to be its own reward. There are no A-pluses to tell you you’re killing it; you have to trust yourself and your work, and look for that kind of validation from within.
3. It’s important to take care of yourself.
One of the first things I noticed upon graduating from a university where people wore yoga pants or board shorts and flip-flops pretty much everywhere, was that people outside of college dress well and groom themselves nicely. First of all, I want to know where you all got your cute clothes, and with what money. But seriously, while eating quesadillas in your PJs may have worked in college, the real world demands salads, slacks, and spin class. Maybe this is coming from the particular perspective of having just moved to New York, but out here in real life, people look good and take awesome care of themselves. Seriously, I saw people going for runs in a blizzard this winter. Start eating vegetables and hit the gym; it matters.
4. No one is going to do it for you.
“It” could be anything — pay your credit card bills on time, keep the lights on in your home, make a dentist appointment, or complete a group project on which you’ve slacked off. Hopefully, you learned this lesson in college, but there are a lot more safety nets there. People exist to make sure you show up for things and generally don’t just slip through the cracks. Everything you need, from health services to career coaching, is generally right there for you. Outside of that environment, it’s all up to you, and if you don’t do it, no one else will.
5. You can break the rules.
On the flip side of number four, life after college means not having to follow a track anymore. No one can tell you, “This is next, take this class, apply for this internship, join this club.”
Your life is totally in your hands, and it’s OK, and even advisable, to stray from the plan a little bit. Life doesn’t have to go college-possible grad school-career-retirement-death. Save up from a crummy job and buy a ticket around the world. Try writing or painting or making music or doing the thing you always wanted to do, but were never brave enough to try. Fall in love — maybe every day. It may sound either cheesy or downright irresponsible, but few choices are irreparable, and few paths will lead you wildly astray. Your new life is yours, and yours alone, at least for a little while. Let it lead you somewhere amazing.