Elaina Hundley
Updated Apr 19, 2015 @ 2:00 pm

Life after college can be scary. That “career” you’ve been hearing so much about for the past four years? You need to embark on one, stat. Your friends have scattered to all ends of the globe. Technically, you are fully responsible for yourself from here on out, which includes balancing a checking account, making the rent, and buying toothpaste. But while it’s normal to feel stressed and anxious, there are A LOT of reasons to be excited about finally becoming a grown-up. And often, your success in meeting the various challenges that come your way will boil down to your attitude. Here are some ways to flip the script on those panicky, negative thoughts that can keep you up at night and instead approach your 20s head-on with enthusiasm.

Negative approach: I need a job and I still don’t know what I want to do!!!!

Positive approach: The world is my oyster.

Looking for a job can be stressful and tiring, and it can cause you to start doubting yourself, your degree, your future, and sometimes your worth (or maybe this is just what happened to me). Instead of feeling burdened by the task and allowing it to become soul-crushing, consider the endless opportunities out there. You’re young, and you might change careers three, five, or 10 times in your life. Basically, if you can think of something that you’d like to do, chances are someone is willing to pay you for it. Take this time to explore your options and open yourself up to those “I just stumbled into this” type situations. I recommend looking more creatively and strategically than the job-hunt guides tell you to. Chat up your customers at the coffee shop, because you never know what they do or who they may know. Attend events that interest you and try and talk with the organizers. Tell your relatives and references what types of positions you are interested in so they can draw from their networks.

Negative: I’m going to lose touch with all of my old friends.

Positive: I love meeting new people!

Remember, even your oldest friends were new to you at some point. Making adult friends is exciting because instead of having floor parties and sleepovers, you enter the realm of happy hours and coffee breaks. Now, there’s no more orientations with “fun” (read: ridiculous) icebreakers, so you have to take the initiative. Attend those office social events. Being new is an adjustment, but even if you feel totally invisible in the first few months, you’ll make an impression soon enough. Say hi to the cool chick in your building who seems totally out of your friend league. You might just hit it off. And ask those college friends if they know anyone in your city that they could hook you up with. People do this all the time, and look, you already have one friend in common.

Negative: I miss college classes.

Positive: I am enrolled in the School of Life.

After you graduate from college, you might start to miss all those scholarly pursuits. Personally, I missed the syllabi, the deep conversations, and reading Anna Karenina in just two weeks. (Let’s be real, when will I ever do that again?) I found myself dreaming up alternative scenarios. What if I’d studied art history, what if I’d majored in gender studies, what if I’d minored in philosophy or graphic design….? The thing is, you can study all these things and more in your adult life. There are continuing education courses. Colleges and universities often offer alumni deals to make participation more affordable. Online classes can also cut costs and are flexible enough to work around your schedule. And if you miss college that much, there’s always grad school. You don’t ever really have to stop being a student if you don’t want to.

Negative: I moved in with six roommates and I need my own space.

Positive: It’s time to develop a relationship with some neighborhood joints.

Alone time is intensely important to me, so when I stayed in my college town after graduation (Washington, DC) and moved in with six other people, I was a little anxious. Sharing a bedroom with another person, and a bathroom with four other people, was difficult. And at first I was pretty miserable. But I soon realized I simply needed to get out more. I could no longer rely on my home to provide the peace and privacy I was looking for. So I started going on walks around the neighborhood to clear my head and that led to finding the local bookstore that became my haunt. It satisfied my longing for the college library and it was also a place where I could get a cheap cuppa and read quietly or work on some writing without really being bothered.

Negative: I am a total failure compared to everybody else.

Positive: I have lots of time to figure it out.

Your friends and peers are all doing different things, in different places. It can be easy to get down on yourself if things don’t fall into place the same way they have for other people. But just because you’re still working retail while some of your college buds have their own offices, or just because you moved back home while someone else is living with her boyfriend, or even if you are having a hard time paying your rent each month, you are probably doing something right. So give yourself some credit. Make a list of your accomplishments. You are in the process of building a future. Sometimes it’s important to remind yourself to not only be positive about your situation, but also about yourself. Learning to pat yourself on the back, even when you aren’t hitting home runs, will make you more resilient and confident in the long term.

If I’ve learned anything from my early 20s it’s that sometimes less-than-ideal situations become lessons in learning to work with what you’ve got, and it’s helped me to evolve and adapt in all aspects of my life. Approaching these obstacles as opportunities helps to make all the many changes you’re bound to experience in your life that much easier.

[Image via here]