It seems that my Facebook feed is full of two things as of late: Politics and graduation related posts. Because one is a lot more happy and less controversial than the other, I can guarantee that I am only touching on one of those subjects in this post.
(Though I have educated opinions about both matters.)
Yes, graduation. Seeing countless senior photos popping up left and right as well as new job announcements, I began thinking about how insane it is that I am going on three years since I graduated from college. I find myself in a state of reverence, milling through all the things I have learned (sometimes the long + hard way) since walking the stage.
Graduation is equally the best and most terrifying experience. Such a conflict of emotions, but none the less, one of the most liberating days of your young life.
There’s nothing like the feeling you have when you step up to the side of a stage to hear your name called as you walk toward the president of your school (eherm, that has taken tens of thousands of dollars from you) who then passes you a diploma. I wanted to leap up and scream at my own commencement, “FREEDOM”, but at DBU your family wasn’t even allowed to scream and cheer for you (it wasn’t respectful…), so had I yelled “FREEDOM” on stage, they likely would have taken my diploma and made me stay three and a half more years.
After graduation, though, following your grand walk across the stage and when all of your celebratory meals come to an end, the lingering question haunts us all who have gone before and been in the same spot: Now what?
I have so many things my parents told me that I wish I had listened to, and then so many more things that I just flat out didn’t know or expect to struggle with. Just because you’re stepping off campus doesn’t mean that stretching the budget comes to an end, eating ramen or mac and cheese all of a sudden stops, or praying your gas tank lasts just a day longer until pay day poofs away with a college degree.
The struggle is real, y’all.
To all you soon-to-be grads, this one’s for you. For all you previous grads, like myself, this is for us to get a few giggles and amens from. I took to Snapchat and my Facebook asking the question, “What do you WISH you had known/want to know before graduating?” The response was overwhelming and I will do my best to cover it all.
Ranging from how to budget, friendships, finding that first job, feeling shame for your first job, to time management… Here’s a bit of what I have learned on all of the above.
What I Wish I Knew Before I Graduated:
1. School Debt
I know it’s hard to think realistically when you’re living it up in college (or, for me, as much as a private Christian university with a curfew allows for), about how real it is that you are racking up school debt and you will, indeed, one day have to pay them off. (GASP.) But, listen to me, don’t take your time, apply for for every scholarship you possibly can every single semester, and start saving now.
When I graduated, I had a unique situation because I graduated A. early and B. was getting married 6 weeks later. I was a fresh 21 year old, I had no savings, I lived paycheck to paycheck (as much as a very part time job at minimum wage could allow me), and I had been on my own since the second I left for Dallas at age 18. My parents were moral support and gave me $40 a month strictly for gas. The rest was up to me, and you know what- I am SO grateful I had parents like this. Sure, it could have been cool to have my school paid for in cash as I went along (ha), but that just wasn’t my situation I came from. I will say that although stepping out of college was horrifying, I felt slightly prepared because my parents prepped me well for problem solving on my own. This means I am a pro at mixing together any ingredients I have left in my pantry to make a semi-nutritional meal.
ANYWAYS, all this is to say that six months later after walking across the stage, Sallie Mae sure as heck was in my mailbox asking for money, and it was A LOT. DBU wasn’t cheap, and even on scholarship I am in more debt than I can even grasp. It is crippling, and I don’t say this to discourage you, but I say it to encourage you that you aren’t alone and, second, for God’s sake, start saving now. Find a job and take full advantage of those six months they give you. I know it’s hard to save when you’re already living paycheck to paycheck, but I sure wish I had done SOMETHING more.
2. Your First Job Might Not Be The Dream
Listen. To. Me. You have to start somewhere and, if you have loans, you have to start getting money almost immediately to save up to start paying them off. It’s a viscous cycle, but what can you do? Get a job that pays well straight out of college. By well, I mean a job that, whether it’s salary or hourly, you are paying the bills with without compromising your values or morals. Then, whilst working this job and doing well at it (this is key), don’t lose site of what the ultimate goal is. It can be easy to start thinking you missed your chance when you see friends getting jobs that are seemingly greater than yours. Don’t compare. YOU ARE 21… Maybe 22? The chances are that nobody you know has THE ULTIMATE DREAM yet. (BUT POWER TO YOU IF YOU DO.) ALWAYS work hard + don’t lose site of the end goal.
Someone’s response was that they wish they had known that some friendships are for life and others are for a season. It’s hard to keep certain friendships past college: time, distance, job commitment, character. It isn’t wrong that some friendships fizzle out. It doesn’t mean that those weren’t cherished in the season that they were there, but truth is that as you grow up, some friendships just change. Perhaps you go different directions or it could be that as you dive into adulting, they aren’t quite doing so yet. You have to decide who and what is positive in your life or simply just realistic, and pursue such things.
Second, relationships are tough to maintain PERIOD post-college. Firstly, you are no longer surrounded by roommates at all hours of the day, and you have to re-learn how to be friends with people who don’t share a bathroom, stove, refrigerator, laundry room, pantry, or closet with you. Before you know it, six months have passed by in your new stage of life, and perhaps you’ve only seen two friends since graduating and starting your new job. (That was ME!) I forgot to pursue friendships in the midst of my new season of life (post-graduation, new career, newly wed) that I let a lot of friends down. It ultimately came down to poor time management and not intentionally pursuing community.
TIP: Make a pact with yourself to leave work and grab dinner + drinks with someone just once a week.
“Friends come and go, but good relationships that you invest in are much more meaningful in adulthood.”
You guys, especially in Dallas, it’s easy to get caught up in wants. It’s so easy to put life on a credit card and fall into the $30k “Millionaire.” (This is a funny name a whole bunch of people have in our city, because they live way above where they actually are financially all for face.) It’s essentially “Keeping up with the Jonses”, but on a whole new, cultural level. Just because it’s the norm DOESN’T MEAN IT IS SMART, y’all.
When it comes to budgeting, it’s simple to say (not as easy to live out), but DO NOT LIVE OUTSIDE YOUR TRUE MEANS. In fact, live on 85% of those means, and ALWAYS put the rest into savings.
I know, I know- freaking hard. Paul and I are two years in, and we understand that sometimes… 15% just ISN’T possible when you have to pay rent, pay bills, and try to get to and from places. Aim for this always, though, and NEVER put expenses on a credit card that you cannot pay back at the end of the month. Practically speaking, Paul has set up an incredible system for us in an Excel sheet that accounts for EVERY dime we have come in and where every single penny goes to every month. He updates it daily, keeping us on track and aware of what’s in our bank account.
Live within your means.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to QUIT Your First “Adult” Job
This = EVERYTHING.
Swinging back to #2, you might take a job that you aren’t stoked about (or, maybe you were stoked at first, but realized it just wasn’t what you thought/ bad environment/ bad morals, etc.) in order to pay the bills and start the crazy race we call “adulthood”. You can very quickly get sucked into believing this is all there is for you and that quitting isn’t safe or smart.
Do not be at a job for ten years that you hate, all the while telling yourself you will quit one day. It’s so much easier to leave a job at 23 than to wait and realize you’re now 33 years old, and would have to start over from the bottom of the totem pole elsewhere. (Doesn’t make it impossible, just a little tougher.)
This was the best thing that ever happened to me personally, and now I can genuinely say (a year later!) I am the happiest I have ever been doing exactly what I have always dreamed of doing.
YOU HAVE TO TAKE THE LEAP. You don’t have to know what you want to do when you first graduate, just don’t let yourself get sucked into something permanently because of FEAR or what the world tells you is “normal” that doesn’t fulfill your passions, desires, or dreams. Life is way too short to work a job that sucks out your life, personality, character, time, friendships, joy, relationships… shall I keep going?
You get the gist.
6. Invest Your Money
As soon as you possibly can, and if you’re like me + Paul this might not happen right away due to circumstances, but when you have any surplus cashflow, start investing it. In all areas of life, let what you do today be something that you are thankful for in the future. Some of the wisest people I know say they wish they had started putting money away and investing anything they had when they were 25 years old rather than 40. (This will mean you get to retire way before your friends, if you are wise.) Though immediate purchases that make yourself feel good are enticing fresh out of college, don’t allow yourself to regret what you did with your money today in 15 years. At the same time, though, I am a firm believer in finding a good balance between saving and living.
7. Find a Mentor
Spiritual, career, life, finances… Find someone (or a few) who can speak life into each of these. Someone you trust and someone who is older + wiser than you in all of the above. A peer isn’t the same as a mentor. Have good friends, I say pick THREE, who you trust everything with. But a mentor is finding someone who can coach you through life decisions that you are ultimately choosing, but they get to speak wisdom into.
Paul and I have a few older couples that we love, respect, and trust. They are people that we have sat down with many times, shamelessly laying out our problems/situations/disputes on the table for, and what they say HEAVILY plays into our next steps.
(Newsflash: Though an “adult”, you don’t know everything at age 23!)
8. Habits Become Routine
Like EVERYTHING you do in life, if you train yourself to think a certain way, do life a certain way, do certain things daily, these ‘things’ become mindless habits that make up who you are.
(Habits can also be your downfall if you fall into BAD ones, but that’s why a mentor is a good thing.)
As someone who works remotely more often than not, I can ESPECIALLY attest to this one. You and about a million other people are probably looking toward the same(ish) career goal, but what sets you apart from the rest is working even when you don’t want to. It means setting up guidelines and habits for yourself daily that are constantly trekking forward. Let everything you do between certain hours of the day be looking to the end goal. This means ALWAYS having a goal you can be fighting for. Don’t lose sight of that.
This is WAY longer than I was expecting, and I could ABSOLUTELY keep going. But, ultimately hear me when I say this:
Life, your career, is about so much more than the money. Do not be deterred from your dreams because of a paycheck.(Or, lack thereof.)
I can speak from experience that getting a 60% pay cut was the best thing that EVER happened to me. And, guess what, that won’t last! If you implement #8 into your life, making habits of all you do, your pay cut won’t last forever. Work ethic and passion is everything. You are in charge of your life, your income, your dreams, your relationships, your routines… everything. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, let others define who you are. If I could go back and change anything about my first year out of college it would be that. And, pursuing my friendships a lot better. If you are doing ANYTHING that takes away from who you are at your core, get out. Right now. Go get a part-time job that simply pays for the necessities in a retail store, a fitness studio (that’s what I did, and I loved it!), or a restaurant until you figure out what’s next.
Know who you are. Pursue community. Pursue your dreams. Don’t stop.
I hope this encourages you. It encouraged me just writing it, getting to look back on all the growth I have experienced since graduating in December 2013. Life has changed in every good way possible, and I hope I can look back in 3 more years with just as much joy + satisfaction as I do right now.
You are loved and SO capable of anything. Congratulations, soon-to-be grads! You have already accomplished so much. Soak in every second of the next couple of months. You will never have another season of life quite like the one you are in right now.