It’s been a little over a year since graduating college and I think I’m finally getting somewhere. This isn’t meant to alarm anyone still in school or worry those who have just graduated, but when people tell you the first year off campus is confusing/strange/weird/sad, it’s the truth. But in an exciting way! During this year, you are forced to focus on yourself and ask the following questions: What do I want to do now? What do I want to be doing in the future? What do I do in between?
They’re big questions to tackle during the first year, and there will be moments when it feels like you’re never going to reach that end goal, but know that it’s the efforts made by you that will get you there.
Here’s what I’ve learned after year one:
1) Make the Big Decision
Three months after I received my diploma, I moved from Connecticut to California. I didn’t have graduate school plans or a desk job lined up, so I thought I would give California the old “college try.” I planned as much as I could and let fate deal with the rest, and it worked out—I found a roommate (a sweet family friend), got a job (as a post-production assistant), and tried to experience as much as I could with new friends or without (The Getty! James Franco book signing! San Francisco! The Mindy Project at Paley!). Although I decided to head back east after eight months, I’m proud of myself for making the decision instead of just thinking about it. This is the time to do it, before you have real-life commitments (spouses, children, mortgages, all that other stuff adults talk about). So buy that plane ticket or take that job on the tomato farm or plan that trip to South Africa (one of my friends is actually doing this). If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean the next decisions won’t.
2) Know That You Will Make Mistakes (And Learn From Them)
Working as a post-production assistant was kind of my first “real job” —but those years as a camp counselor had its tasking moments, too. I didn’t have many technical skills when I started (I was an English major with a Studio Art minor), so there was a lot of head-scratching and triple-checking those first few weeks. On my very first day, I unknowingly mixed up the tape shelf and sent the other PA into full-on panic mode, believing that we were suddenly missing half-a-season’s worth of tapes. Oops. My mistake was realized and I was shown how to organize the tapes from then on. You don’t want to make any mistakes on your first job, but that’s impossible. Just remember that your coworkers and boss want you to do a good job, too, so they will appreciate your questions and understand your mistakes (so long as you remember to correct yourself the next time). Everyone, even the top-shot CEO or grumbly manager, had to start where you are now, so just keep working hard and moving up.
3) Set a Goal and Work Towards It
I’m a daydreamer, which means I’ve spent countless afternoons imagining Mindy Kaling stopping me on the sidewalk (of my tiny Connecticut town she just happens to be visiting) and asking me to write for her show, or picturing the email from a publishing house that says they want my manuscript, and they want the next ten, too! All of that is nice, especially with the You’ve Got Mail soundtrack playing in the background, but plans need to be made and work needs to be done in order to get there. In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” So I set goals, little and big ones; for example, I read every night or submit a story or an article every week or narrow down my grad school list by the end of the month. Even if it’s a small accomplishment, it’s an accomplishment in itself, which should motivate me to keep striving, maybe even past my end goal.
4) Nostalgia is Okay. . .
Right after graduating, I made it my mission to make a photo album of my four years at school. I scrolled through all of my Facebook photos from freshman year to senior year, printed out my favorites, and came up with captions for each and every one of them (there’s still something nice about tangibility, isn’t there?). When I couldn’t make it to alumni weekend or, on some dreary days, even out of my bed, I would take out the album and reminisce, in a happy-sad sort of way. These moments will come, so you just have to take them…
5) But Reunions are Better!
While I missed out on my school’s alumni weekend and trips my friends made to D.C., NYC, and Philly, I made up for it when I moved back home. Graduating from college doesn’t mean you can no long stay up all night with your freshman roommate or stumble through a bar crawl together or just sit and watch six episodes of House on someone’s couch anymore—it just requires a little more planning. My friends and I made a Facebook group, started a group chat, and have arranged Skype/Google Hangout dates, despite time zone differences, insane grad school schedules, and all of the other shenanigans that come with graduating. You were there for each other during the craziness of college, so of course you’ll have each other in life.
Shannon Slocum is an aspiring writer from Connecticut (yes, she plays tennis, but no, she doesn’t wear polos) who has a tendency to sing her sentences. She likes re-watching When Harry Met Sally and re-reading Bossypants. Her enthusiasm for books, television and film is shared on her blog.