A Letter to the Class of 2017

It has been nearly four months since my last post on the Adulting After College blog, and that’s no coincidence. For four months, I have struggled to find the humor in my situation, to convey a concise, organized, light-hearted retelling of recent events in my life since graduation. It is only after conversing with so many bright, dedicated, fun-loving graduates-to-be that I remembered to give myself a kick in the ass and continue my posts.

There is so much I want to share with you, Class of 2017, that the words are hard to find (even for a writer like me). So much has happened in the moments before shutting my eyelids, the drives to and from the new job that I compare to the old job, between chance encounters with familiar faces, in brief and sporadic successes. It would be unrealistic to try to serve a short story on a meaningful platter to any readers out there, but I’ll try throwing some leftovers together alongside a store-bought cake, and hopefully, you’ll get something meaningful out of this.

You and your friends may follow similar paths, but it’s likely your experiences will begin to greatly differ. Some of my peers went from clear-cut programs like nursing and engineering on to stable jobs; others decided to continue on to graduate or professional school or spend a year working for the Peace Corps; some are doing jobs or living in places they never would have anticipated; and some are struggling to find employment, employment in their field, or employment that means something to them.

I fall in the latter of these subgroups, which are by no means all-inclusive. I was fortunate enough to bust out of the gate with an amazing opportunity in a big city, and I thought to myself, “This is it. You’ve worked hard, you did all the right things, and you got a little bit lucky—there is still work to be done, but you have set yourself up for success.”

…Only outcomes aren’t as predictable (or forgiving) as end-of-semester grades, and there is no schedule of advisor-guided courses to look forward to next month.

I worked very, very hard; I sacrificed; I barely paid my bills. I spent lonely nights sleeping on the floor of strange places; lonely nights staring at the ceiling thinking of home; lonely nights peering over a balcony into a concrete jungle. I ate absolute junk, and any signs of self-care fell to the wayside along with any certainty of the future.

These moments were the very real, behind-the-scenes footage of the toll it took to give my all to a new job in a new city that—for many reasons—simply wasn’t working out. I convinced myself that I should want the things society and the media and whoever else it is that gives us overriding thoughts were the things I should want. When I stopped trusting myself and what I really wanted, I stopped giving myself the ability to take care of myself, stand up for myself, express myself. And ultimately, the martyrdom ended with a big ol’ knife in the back, courtesy of corporate America.

And suddenly, my effort had all been for nothing. Suddenly, I had hit rock bottom—completely broke and forced to move back into my parents’ house. Forced to leave my new life, create physical distance in my new relationship, and wave goodbye to the fulfillment of dreams I imagined lie just beyond the horizon.

And since then, there has been no clear life plan, no satisfactory amount of income, no sure-fire measure of achieved success.

And since then, I have had days and days without work, and I have had days upon days of work without a break.

And since then, I have struggled to keep up with friends who are on a different chapter and in a different place than me.

1 year out of college, and I’ll admit I’m fighting a little cynicism. I’ll admit that I’m tired and worried; that I sometimes feel like a failure; that I’m ready to just have my life together already. BUT—as much as I miss my friends (and the sense of community that comes so easily in a university)—I would never wish I could go back to college or skip this exciting and excruciating year immediately after graduation.

Why?

Because for the first time in my life, I am completely in control of my own destiny. I’m not shuffling from one classroom to the next as I have been doing for the previous 16 years of my life. I’m not being told where I can sit and when I can talk and what I have to learn and which step comes next. I’m not cranking out an arbitrary assignment or checking off a syllabus or commenting, “I completely agree with what you’re saying” on a pointless discussion board. I do look back and appreciate what a privilege it is to receive an education, but I also laugh at the fact that I ever used to have to raise my hand to speak.

I am becoming stronger. The growing pains are unbearable, but I can feel the change in my bones. I’m learning when I’m being mistreated. I’m learning when to say no. I’m learning where I want to go with my life and who I want to take with me. I’m learning more about myself, my needs and my dreams. I’m learning to completely and totally take care of myself: financially, emotionally, physically and otherwise.

I am gaining a greater appreciation for the important things in life, including my loved ones. Without the support net of college, you grow to appreciate just how much your family and close friends mean to you—how they have your back when no one else does and how they pick you up when you maybe don’t deserve it.

I can now buy and cook meals rather than eat the same old dining hall food; I can put work to rest at 5 p.m. if I so choose; and I’m doing things that impact the world around me rather than studying theories in a textbook.

I am not at my most positive, for sure, but a small voice inside me says, “This, too, shall pass.” And I know that these moments are but a blimp on the timeline of my life, my journey of self-discovery.

And I also know that sometimes, I’m just a big whiny baby.

To the Class of 2016: I am proud of all that you are accomplishing, no matter how poorly you might feel you are doing.

And to the Class of 2017: relish this glorious end to the semester, these goodbyes and parties with friends, and the pride that comes with having earned a degree. You deserve all the happiness in the world, and it is yours to seize if you so dare…the best—and the worst—is yet to come.

What has life been like for you since graduation? Comment with your experiences below!

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