Six years ago, I wrote a
. I compared leaving college to what it's like if you were to leave the lid off an ant farm overnight. Even after months of working to build their tunnels and protect their homes, you'd wake up and find they'd left the little box for a much bigger universe. It's a lot like students leaving their desks and dorms and the lives they've built for the real world.
I always get nostalgic this time of year - reflecting on how much has changed during the last six years and what has stayed the same. What I miss and what I don't. I think about the way spring felt in Bloomington, with hundreds of trees in bloom and the feeling in the air that
if we just close our eyes tight enough, maybe we can stay a little longer.
I was ready to graduate when the time came. I wasn't ready to leave my friends but I felt eager to know where I'd be working and living. At the time, I was in a long distance relationship, so I felt ready to get to Atlanta and see where it would take me.
A lot of reader emails I get are from seniors in college and this month, as graduation wraps up around the US, you all have been on my mind. This time of life is wonderful and scary at once. It's easy and happy, but a little hard, too.
I did some things right and many things wrong. Here's what I wish I'd known when I graduated at 22:
Your friendships are going to change.
And it's OK. You will have best friends you grow apart from and best friends you grow even closer to. There will be new friends. And some of them will come and go, while others become dear to you. Friendships in our 20s are like a Rubik's cube - they tend to rotate and shift - some fall into place and others don't fit. And when you find one that really works, it feels like magic. Make an effort to stay close to the people that matter the most. Mourn friendships that end up growing apart. And don't be afraid to make room for new ones to blossom.
The older you get, the more money you make and the more secure you become. It gets harder and harder to give up that stability and comfort. Take risks now. If you want to work at a start--up, go abroad or be a camp counselor, now is the time to do it. Invest in these risks. Don't worry about how you'll explain them in an interview. These risks are brand building and personal equity. When you have more life experience, an employer will likely find it more valuable than your Excel skills. Don't be afraid to go against the grain.
Spend time alone.
I spent many lonely nights in Atlanta when I first graduated. I went on a lot of walks and explored much of this city solo. But that loneliness soon became independence. Nights alone, which I once feared, I now revel in. I learned more about who I was and what I stood for on those walks around the city by myself than I ever anticipated. I didn't plan to spend so much time alone, but I'm so grateful for them now.
Be careful with your money.
When I first moved here, my monthly rent was more than a 2-week paycheck after taxes. I was living well beyond my means. Don't do what I did. Live within your means and invest early. I know how tempting it is to live in a cooler neighborhood, go to every event and buy anything you want. I've been there. But the money you're saving now matters. Be wise with it.
Try really hard at something.
! Whether it be your job, grad school, volunteering, a blog, training for a race or anything in between, do it well. Caring about things shapes us into being more compassionate, interesting and motivated people.
Take on hobbies.
I've seen people wake up at 30 and realize all they did in their 20s was work. There's nothing wrong with working super hard, but take some time each month to invest in your own personal growth. Allowing yourself time to unplug from work and do something that's purely for yourself will keep you sane in this changing decade.
The playing field will get uneven.
For the first time in your life, you aren't going to be in the same place as your friends. Some will continue with school and others will quickly be promoted over and over. Some will get engaged and buy houses. Others will shudder at the thought of commitment or a diaper. If there is one thing I wish I'd done better in my early 20s, it would be not
. We each have our own path and story and each one of them matters. We were not made to emulate one another.
Care about your family.
This looks different for everyone and I know a lot of people carry both pain and joy in their familial relationships. I don't know what your family looks like, but I do know that everything started with family and, as you get older, you begin to see that everything comes back to it.
See a therapist.
I pretty much think everyone could benefit from seeing a therapist during most seasons of life. I'm a big fan of emotional processing and I believe we grow a lot from reflecting and seeking guidance.
Go to faraway places. Learn your city. Make new friends. Try different hobbies. Cook new things. Embrace new relationships. Open your heart to this next chapter, for it is great. Don't fear it. Let it shape you and grow you and make you into the amazing person you're meant to be.