May is typically the month of graduation, when many young people leave something behind to look ahead to new challenges. Whether it’s a high school senior starting college, trade school, a gap year or work, or a recent college grad trying to start her career, the summer months are often bittersweet for new grads as they start navigating an unknown environment while perhaps not quite ready to leave behind their previous one.
Emily and I each graduated ten years ago (one from high school and one from college), and between us, we have almost 17 years of experience in the post-school “real” world. Our full time jobs are in different industries, we live in different states, and our post-grad tracks have often taken different directions. But we’ve each learned a few important lessons along the way. Whether you graduated last week, last year or last century, you’ve probably picked up a few nuggets of wisdom. Please feel free to share them with us below!
1. It’s okay to change your mind about what you want. You’re not the same person you were five years ago, and in five years you won’t be exactly the same as you are now. Just because you always dreamed about being/seeing/doing something, doesn’t mean you still have to pursue it. It’s okay to change directions.
2. Setting a realistic budget from the get-go is crucial. It’s easy to get those first “real” paychecks and think, I’ll have a little fun now and start paying into retirement/sticking to a budget in a few months. Then those months turn into years and suddenly you have no financial plan. Figure out your budget early and set yourself up for financial stability. It can even be sort of fun if you find the tricks that work for you!
3. That said, it’s important to splurge every once in a while. A new outfit, vacation, too many chocolate chip cookies–the body, mind and soul need to be spoiled and indulged on occasion. It’s okay to treat yo’self!
4. No one cares about what you do as much as you might think. I think many of us spend so much time thinking about how other people see us, or what they think about us and what we’re doing. I’ve learned that most people…well, they just don’t care. It sounds harsh but it’s so freeing to realize.
5. Quality of clothes is more important than quantity. Unless you’re unwilling to make the extra effort to take care of your nice things. I’ve ruined too many quality blouses because I didn’t bother to dry clean them (thanks a lot, Tide…)
6. Getting your dream job is not the most important thing to focus on in your career, and it won’t happen right away or without a lot of work. There are so many other ways to measure success or happiness–don’t get stuck in the idea that you have to fall in love with your job in order to be happy. And don’t assume you’ll get your dream job right away. You probably won’t.
7. You can be selective in the things you care about. We all have limited bandwidth. That’s a business jargon-y word I hate, but it’s true. We can only give time and focus to a certain number of things. And it’s okay if the things you want to give focus to are different from what other people think they should be.
8. The importance of “me time.” Family, friends, coworkers, there’s so many people who pull us in so many different directions. Cultivating relationships in all areas of our life is important and gratifying. But, even for the most extreme extrovert, it’s important to strengthen and cultivate the relationship with yourself.
9. You don’t have to follow the trends. Whether in fashion, relationships or anything else, following a trend or fad is not what is ultimately going to make you happy.
10. Roommates and significant others are great, but… I love/loved living with mine. But I wouldn’t take back the two years I spent living alone for anything. There is something incredibly empowering about being the only one making sure the rent is paid on time, or investigating the strange noise in the middle of the night. You learn to rely on yourself and that, in turn, makes you someone others can rely on.
11. The negative impact of “if only” thinking. Life will never be perfect. We have too many commitments–careers, relationships, houses, side projects–to have them all pristine and functioning at 100% perfection, 100% of the time. I fall into the trap of thinking “if only my house were cleaner” or “if only I could wrap up this one project I’d have more time for x, y, and z.” But “if only” thinking doesn’t allow you to be happy with where you’re at right now. So embrace the chaos and the journey.
These are just a few important life lessons we’ve learned as adults, and we know there will be many more to come. What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned in the “real” world?
– Bridget & Emily