Real Talk: 5 Things I Wish I’d Been Told Before Graduating College


Real Talk: 5 Things I Wish I'd Been Told Before Graduation College

Everyone (obviously) leads distinctly unique lives. If you grew up in the U.S. and participated at all in it’s education system though, you’ll likely commiserate with at least some of this discussion. Personally, I’m a few years over the college hill. I graduated with a BA in a liberal arts field from a small private institution in Southern California (AKA… the kind of place where paying for a semester feels like ripping a limb off) and I loved it. Well, I loved the education side of things, if I could have done it all over I’d recommend to myself to try to get more out of my box – that small private college felt remarkably similar to the large public high school (in the small but very affluent) northern CA community where I grew up. This aside, even being nearly three years removed from my college career, I’m still regularly astounded that no one (parents, teachers, advisors) EVER, mentioned any of the below things to me.


Enter, the five essential things I wish someone had mentioned to me before graduation…

1. Quarter Life Crises Are a Real Thing


If someone had even, oh, mentioned this to me in passing, even just once, MAN would I have been more prepared for life, in general, post-college. It baffles me how much our hands are held throughout school. There are teachers/parents/counselors walking you through each step, there’s extensive orientations instructing you on everything from how often you should be calling your parents to how to sign up for your advanced Chemisty classes, and then, nothing. Well, not nothing, but just a lot of hoohah about “Congratulations!”, “You did it!”, and “The next chapter awaits!”.


It seems to me that America has adopted a sort of (stupid) ritual traditional, that it’s every student’s challenge to be “dropped” into the real world without any prep. A, “that’s-life-kid”, “shit-happens”, “suck-it-up-and-put-on-your-big-kid-pants”, “if-I-suffered-through-it-so-can-you”, attitude. This is all well and good. Sometimes in life you do have to suck it up and put on your big kid pants, no one is arguing that. The point of issue is in the discrepancy between the amount of advice students get through school – and the near zero they get after. Institutions should run a graduate orientation -- seriously. Because unless you’re one of blessed few that knows exactly what you want you want to in life without a shadow of a doubt, the next few years post-college are going to be really f***ing hard. And I mean, traumatic, mind-altering, this really f***ing blows, hard. And you will get through it, yes. You’ll come out the other side stronger, but finding yourself isn’t easy. It might be a kinder journey though… if schools gave us a little more mental preparation for the struggle ahead of time.


2. You'll Cope With Identity Loss


A dear friend of mine in social work brought this up to me, and it really stuck. It’s a more nuanced idea… but it makes a ton of sense, and offers a sound explanation for why, as mentioned above, the years post college can really f***ing blow. The basic idea is this:  whether you’re aware of it or not, being a student has been a significant part of your identify your whole life thus far. AND I MEAN LIKE YOUR WHOLE LIFE. Up until the day you graduate college, you’ve likely been in school since you we’re 3 years old. You’ve identified as a student since before you could even say a full sentence! So again, whether or not you’re aware of it, suddenly NOT being a student anymore is a huge loss in identity, and that’s a serious thing to go through folks. A serious thing…


3.     “Success” is Different for Everyone


Knowing your definition of success is an integral part of the proverbial, “pursuit of happiness”. For myself, it took a hard dive into corporate America and the realization that societies definition of success is predominately monetary before I was able to recognize that this wasn’t also “my” definition. I wish someone had told me, frankly, that it’s okay to not reach for what (in our capitalistic success) the blanket definition of success is. Your definition can be different. I have friends whose definition of success in life is to make a ton of money. Rock on. That will make them happy. I have friends whose definition of success is building a family in the town they grew up in. Rock on. That will make them happy. I have friends whose definition of success is traveling the world before they get old. Rock on. That will make them happy. Pursue YOUR definition of success. It will make you happy.


4.     It’s OKAY to Take Your Time


This one’s pretty self explanatory, but it’s something I consistently need to remind myself of, even now. There’s no rush. We are young. Be OKAY with taking the time to really figure out what you want to do, and how. It’s an approach that I’m sure will safe guard you from a lot of regrets later in life. Read this book excerpt from “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, it’s fantastic.


“It took seven years from the time I wrote Mad Men until it finally got on the screen. I lived every day with that script as if it were going to happen tomorrow. That’s the faith you have to have.”…. “The most defeatist thing I hear is, ‘I’m going to give it a couple of years.’ You can’t set a clock for yourself.”


Take you time. Dreams don’t happen over night. If you have one, have conviction, and don’t give it up… for anything.


5.     The Only Expectations that Matter are Your Own


In the same way that you need to live your definition of success in order to be happy, you need to live your expectations, and yours only. I’m a total people pleaser, so this is something that I could have used reminding of post-college. There are a lot of expectations for our lives, expectations that are incredibly hard not to feel responsible for filling -- expectations from family, partners, friends, and society. But it’s YOUR LIFE. If you want to live expectations that aren’t your own, go for it. If it’s your decision, have conviction that it’s the best decision for you. Just know that at the end of the day, the only expectations you are ever truly responsible for filling, are your own. 


- Kate Reid

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