Life after graduation will change you, and the lessons learned in this period will be some of the hardest to grasp.
When we look back on our years at college, most of us remember fondly all the great things—parties, brushes with romance, late nights with new friends—that made us who we are today. We may have done some things that we’re not particularly proud of (fire extinguisher fights), but college was all at once a formative experience that taught us things we might have never known otherwise.
Whether you graduated by a hair or approached the podium as valedictorian, those years changed all of us. If we could all go back to our senior-year selves, we’d tell them that everything is going to be OK. Then we’d buy them a drink, sit them down and tell them to shut up and listen because what we’re going to tell them will change them forever.
1. Take Your Time
Not just on tests or drinks—take your time in life. We’re on this mortal coil for a pretty limited time, so stop. Maybe just for a few hours or even just a second to take in what exactly is happening to you.
“You’re going to graduate, end up covering county fairs in a city upstate for a newspaper and live in a one-bedroom apartment without internet and drink an entire bottle of Chardonnay every night after this, Gin,” I’d say.
That’s just the thing. When we’re seniors, we’re ready to be “done.” We say “I’m so done with this place” or the like. But think about when you said that. Your senior year would be a montage of standing near a billiards table, craft beer in your hand, telling some of your best friends that you can’t wait to get out.
“Savor this moment,” I’d say. “Because you might never have it again.”
Therein lies a lesson for us all. We aren’t necessarily guaranteed fun after we leave college. Hell, we’re not even guaranteed a damn job when we leave college, so take any second to unwind, any minute to catch up with someone, and any hour of solitude with the utmost appreciation of what’s happening. Because, man, when you’re in an office all day, you’re liable to forget what a summer breeze feels like.
2. Someone is Always Going to Work Harder Than You
No matter what, someone somewhere will do what you do better. Not because they’re talented, but they’ll succeed because they just work harder than you. And if there isn’t someone who’s better, how would you know?
Your pride might not come before a fall, but it will come before you send out resumes all over the country. And the phone doesn’t ring. And you end up laying in bed, staring at the ceiling wondering why no one wants to even bother calling you back.
Our growth does not end after college. A diploma is not an incision that cuts off circulation to our growth as people. And if you treat it like that, you’re condemning yourself to a dead-end life. You can’t let yourself think your college years will be the best of your life and sentence yourself to slouch through the rest of time. Just getting by worked in college, sure, but the most “competition” you had to go through with fellow classmates and peers was waking up early enough to register for a class before it filled.
“You will meet someone who intimidates you with his or her skill,” I’d say. “And you will feel like a complete idiot that you never showed this craft you supposedly love so much the care and attention you know in your heart it deserves.”
Then I’d buy senior-year me another drink.
3. You Are Your Only True Advocate
A word-of-mouth endorsement can only get you so far. You have to prove yourself in any and every way possible.
There have been a lot of people who have done their damndest to try to help me. I wholeheartedly appreciate every kind word, every compliment, and every time someone brought my name up. Really.
But it was, as the second item in this piece notes, foolish of me to believe that opportunity would come to me. Coincidences happen, but karma very rarely shows up to your doorstep with a giant cardboard check with “success” written on it.
Work hard and get something to show for it, because in the grand scheme of a lived-out life, what’s a couple years?
“You have to cut your teeth somewhere,” I’d say. “And no, no one really cares about your GPA or scholarships or why you got them.”
4. If You’re Scared, Everyone is Scared
This isn’t about being a hero. It’s about admitting to yourself what you feel—and understanding that you’re not alone.
Had I been at my graduation ceremony, I can only imagine how terrifying it’d be. We’d toss our hats up in the air, yell, and—well, then what? We might have went out and partied for a while, threw a couple back, told stories of our exploits—and then what?
Everyone at that moment is feeling just as you are. Everyone in that class feels that itch, that terror, and that wonder at “Holy shit, is college seriously over?”
You don’t necessarily have to cower in the shadow of your dreams, but understand that even that one acquaintance of yours who got a big-time job in New York is scared. Life changes nearly every day, but when you graduate, you move into an entirely different time in your life. It isn’t a new chapter as much as it is a new book in the same series.
So admit it.
When you get it all out, you come out the other end collected, and you’re ready to move on to the first step toward moving forward. Isn’t that all that life is? We’re all moving toward a terminus, and we can’t realistically stop the trek. The least we can do is try to make the ride comfortable.
Move forward with a clear conscience and work toward where you need to be—no matter how slow you go, always move forward.
5. A Good Friend Makes Any Endeavor Worth It
As we get older, our chances of finding a really good friend feels like it diminishes. But if you graduated college with one true friend with whom you still talk and meet occasionally, it makes college worth more.
Who else is going to remember that time you punched through a screen door, attempted to drink an entire jug—yes, a jug—of wine, played NBA Jam while swigging straight bourbon, sang a three-part harmony through a shitty flip phone to a mutual friend, or just all those quiet moments leaning back in cracked white plastic patio furniture, listening to the world, and just wondering when you’ll experience something memorable in college.
Those are the moments. Those seemingly fleeting, worthless, just-another-Saturday-night hours are what bring us together. A friend who experienced it all with you makes every test, every late night, every weekend mean so much more.
Those are the good old days. But make no mistake, there are plenty of good new days ahead.
It’d be at this point that senior-year Gin would stare out the window, order another drink and suddenly realize that, for him, today—no matter how seemingly mundane—is the type of good day 25-year-old Gin smiles about when he remembers. And 25-year-old Gin would slap him on his back and clear his throat.
“C’mon, buddy, I know what’ll cheer you up,” 25-year-old Gin would say. “Let’s go get a six-pack and watch that YouTube video of Nicolas Cage yelling you love so much.”