Last Friday I walked across a big stage, shook hands with my university president, and officially became a graduate for a second time. Eight years ago, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. It felt like a really big accomplishment because it was. Friday was another big accomplishment. However, the two days felt vastly different. On Friday I felt confident in walking towards that post-grad life. I have a job, a husband, a house. This diploma is just the cherry on top of what’s turning into an awesome chapter in my life.
Rewind to eight years ago and it was way different. I had no idea what I was going to do after graduating. I was moving back home and throwing my resume out into the internet void every day. Looking back now, it seems like a long time ago and also like it was yesterday. That uncertainty and lack of stability taught me a lot. So while I’m proud of my master’s degree, I’m even more proud of what I’ve accomplished since walking across the stage at 21 years old. Here’s what these eight years have taught me.
Most things don’t go as planned.
When I was sixteen, I envisioned working in fashion in New York City, doing photography and editorials, and strolling home after work to my tiny apartment (I wasn’t THAT much of a dreamer). At 25, I finished my teaching program after making the leap a year earlier. Then I landed my first job as a kindergarten teacher and moved in with my then-boyfriend (now husband). My feet were firmly planted in the suburbs and my big city dreams never happened. And that’s okay. I am a much better teacher in the suburbs than a struggling magazine writer. My husband and I never would have met if I hadn’t been unemployed.
There will be people who are climbing the ladder or heading to law school or having babies. You will get there. Eventually. When it’s right. Every path looks different. It’s okay to say no to grad school when everyone else is saying yes. You are not a failure for having to live at home or rent a shady looking apartment. Or break up with the love of your life. Or find love in all the wrong places. Let go of what you think should happen and be present for what does happen. You’ll get there, I promise.
Friendships will change.
I worried late one night that I was a bad friend. It all stemmed from my need for space from a friendship gone bad. That’s when the wisdom of someone older and wiser passed down their knowledge to me (Okay, guys, you got me, it was my mom). Basically she reminded me that we all change. It’s an incredible thing to hold on to childhood friendships. But it’s also an incredible thing to realize when you need your own space to grow. It’s okay to need space when you just feel like it’s not working like a friendship should. Sometimes we grow together and sometimes we grow apart.
Eight years post-grad and almost thirty, my friendships don’t look like they once did. I miss those late night phone calls and movie marathons and day drinking squad. However, I am building new friendships and watching friends marry and holding new friends’ babies. If your friendships start to feel funny or drift, it’s not you. Well, it’s kind of you but in a good way. You’re becoming even more yourself. Some people will be along for the ride and some people will wave to you from the sidewalk. Things change and that’s okay.
Do things for you.
I distinctly remember at my undergraduate ceremony realizing that, from now on, everything was up to me. Sure, I’d called a lot of shots up until then. Like what college I was going to and if I wanted to take that Sunday drive. But now my life was up to me. Do you know how much responsibility your life is going to be? Besides the bills and stuff, there’s deciding how to spend your time and who to love and whether you need to wear something fancy to dinner or not. I guess I was a bit sheltered growing up but suddenly I was in charge.
There are a lot of people, well-meaning people, who will try to tell this “adult” you what to do. People will give you all sorts of advice about who to spend your time with and what you should be doing. There will be a LOT of people who will want to tell you how to spend your money. But the best thing about being a college grad and being an adult is, you get to decide. If you like spending all day in your pajamas watching Netflix, go ahead. If you want to hustle your way to the top of your industry, go get it. It can even be as simple as wearing that outfit that other people call odd. Do every little thing for you.