05.29.12 Career & Finances
I’ve been out of college for exactly two years, but somehow I still think of my life in semesters. When I see pictures of graduation caps and gowns, I know a semester is over. When I hear co-workers talking about their kids’ spring break, I know another semester is done. These times always make me stop and re-evaluate where I am and what I’m doing. The years after you graduate college are exciting, empowering, confusing and usually stressful. You’re on your own, hopefully making money, but probably not doing exactly what you thought you’d be doing when you sat daydreaming in high school.
Things don’t always work out as planned. Sometimes you have to work a boring job (or internship) until you can get your dream job. Sometimes you’re really broke and moving the same twenty dollars between your checking and savings account. Sometimes you have no idea what you want to do, even though it’s assumed that you’ll have it figured out by that point. All of this is okay, even if no one pulls you aside and reassures you of this fact. Here’s why: being an adult is a myth. No one really knows what it means. Maybe it means paying bills or having a nice wine collection, but no one is really sure. There’s no adulthood induction ceremony. You can’t buy an Adulthood for Dummies book at your local bookstore. In fact, every single person I know would probably rather be running around outside on a warm, sunny day instead of sitting in an office doing work. At the heart of it, we’re all still kids. But if you really want to figure out what adulthood means, you can identify a few defining characteristics. For example: being comfortable in your skin and trusting your own instinct. These skills signal a transition from awkward girl to powerful woman. And the years following college graduation are when these skills really start to strengthen and develop.
My two-year, post-grad evaluation made me realize a few things. I’m not doing exactly what I thought I’d be doing when I was two years out of college, but I’m close. I don’t have the wedding ring that my middle-school self thought was a necessity at age 24, but I’m perfectly happy about that. I’ve realized that I’m steadily becoming more of a confident person and less of a confused kid. Now when I need to make a big decision I no longer need to consult my three closest friends, my mom, and my boyfriend. That seems to indicate maturity and self-confidence.
The other thing that, to me, signals self-assurance is the ability to let things happen. It’s my natural instinct to plan myself to death.
“Okay, in six months I’ll be doing this and living here.”
Or, more simply, “I need to have this conversation with this person and this is how it’s going to go.”
Planning is great. It’s comforting. It gives structure to your life. But sometimes, whether by choice or by force, you have to crumple up your plans and throw them out the window. This used to make me feel sweaty and scared, but I’ve realized the ability to do this shows self-confidence. You don’t need a plan. You’re equipped to handle any situation. Of course, some degree of thinking ahead is usually good. Living completely off the cuff just isn’t realistic. But it’s nice to know that you’re confident enough in yourself and your abilities to be able to morph and adjust to your surroundings as needed. I don’t plan myself to death as much anymore. When I was in high school I used to try to extrapolate ten years down the road. I couldn’t just accept that I would figure it out as I went. Now, I can go with the flow more easily. I trust myself. But don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a good life plan where appropriate.
This idea of “letting things happen” doesn’t mean that you should kick your feet back and be a spectator in your own life. Not at all. In fact, quite the opposite. You don’t need to rely on anyone or anything to get what you want. If you have a big dream, get to work. Even if you have to start on a very small scale. Little steps in the right direction add up quickly. But you also don’t need to hyper-plan and overanalyze as you work to get there. You’ve got this. You’ll figure it out.
It would be lovely if crossing the stage to get your diploma meant you magically had all the answers, but the struggle and development is part of what makes being a person exciting. Somewhere along the way you realize you’ve shifted from a teenager to a twenty-something college student to a person confident in her own skin who’s equipped with the tools to make it work and make life good for herself.