How to Survive the First Brutal Year After College

It happened. You graduated.

If I could guess, you’re either sitting in your parents’ house, or you’re in your barely furnished apartment in a city where you have like, 1 friend.  You’re watching all the Snapchats, and Instagram updates of your friends who still remain in that glorious, run down, beer-smelling college town, while a single tear (or multiple tears.. It’s okay, girl, let it out) runs down your face.  It’s like they’re rubbing it in your face!  The face that you are currently stuffing with your third bowl of cereal, because college prepared you on how to have beer for breakfast, but not how to avoid breakfast cereals for dinner.  WHAT IS THIS CRUEL WORLD THAT WE’VE JUST BEEN THROWN OUT INTO? WHERE ARE MY FRIENDS, AND WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE? 

Anyway, I feel your pain.  I graduated from Ohio University over 2 years ago, and just watched opening weekend happen through social media for the 3rd time. 

When I graduated from college, I took 2 months off to couch surf, eat cheese quesadillas (all I could afford and knew how to cook.  See above), and wait until the day when “The Real World” started.  I hate that term, “The Real World”, because I feel like it takes away from all the amazing stuff you did in college!  You killed it.  Don’t forget that.  

Then July came, I tied a red bandana in my hair to look like Rosy the Riveter, shittly packed my shit into the U-Haul (half my stuff broke), picked up my college roommate, Hannah, and headed to Chicago.  I arrived in Chicago, a city I’ve wanted to live in since I was 13 years old, and everything felt right.  I had done it.  I had graduated, successfully left my hometown, and I was about to start my full time job. This was it! 

After a few weeks, it started to sink it.  I literally began googling “graduating from college + Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”.  Weirdly, I got no results, except the realization that I am, in fact, dramatic AF (I’m trying to censor myself).  I felt so lost.  So often I would cry on my hour and a half commute home from work.  One, because I didn’t have AC in my car and it was so hot, and two because I went from knowing who I was and being known, to being anonymous, and unsure of who I was or what I wanted to do with my life. 

My little brother, who’s still living the dream in my college town, asked me at the 1st Thanksgiving after, “So, how does it feel to be old?”  Without a pause, I turned to him with a straight face, “Be prepared to not know who you are anymore.”  It was one step away from being the scene from Billy Madison.

The first year after college, or as my friend likes to call it “The Freshmen Year of Life”, is one of the hardest years I’ve ever experienced, which is really saying something. The growing pains that you feel can be agonizing, but do not let the pain stop you or paralyze you!  Keep fighting through! 

Here’s a little secret: Everyone who has graduated feels some of the same emotions, are thinking some of the same things, and are having very similar worries to you. That might not look as clear through the mobile screen you’re peering into, but not everyone is willing or wanting to tell you when they feel like crap, or when their life is actually falling apart.  Understandably, and thankfully so. We don’t need to see everything on social media, but some people, sometimes even your friends, will paint a picture of white picket fences and roses.  Don’t worry about what you’re seeing through that little screen.  Even the person who moved to that amazing city, or that person who has the kick ass job is thinking about it.  We are all questioning life, and that’s not going to end for a long time post college. Prepare yourself! 

Here are some of my biggest realizations, and things that you can do that can help you in the coming years. Trust me, I’m still learning and figuring it out, too! We’re here for each other. 

Here’s how to survive: 

1. Breathe! BREATHEEE!! 

Okay, great. Carrying on… 

2. Take Classes.

Yep.  You just graduated, and I’m telling you to start taking classes again.  I don’t necessarily mean like straight back to a full time student unless that’s what you intended.  I mean finding classes in things that interest you.  When you don’t know who you are, what you’re good at, or where/how to even start, classes are key.  There are so many classes that you can take that are only a few short hours, or weekend, that you give you a little taste of the subject.  Take a photography class!  Or a coding class!  Any of the classes that interested you in college, but you just couldn’t fit in with all your major requirements.  There are so many cheap options that you don’t have to invest so deeply without knowing that you love it, and can do so without adding on to your student debt. Here are some of my favorites to check out: CourseHorse, Levo League, SkillShare, and General Assembly.

3. Read! 

Right after graduating I read “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – and How to Make the Most of Them Now” by Dr. Meg Jay (Here is her Ted Talk).  It truly made me feel better about what I was doing, and what I needed to do.  I’ve forcefully recommended this book to 5 people, and have even gifted it.  I’ve started conversations with random strangers on the subway who I saw reading it just because I really love it that much, and think it really makes a positive impact in your jumbled up thoughts!  … Other great things to read are autobiographies of people who you admire, leadership books, and blogs. 

4. Learn how to drink. 

This one I should probably write a longer post about, but I think it’s important to address here.  In college, you live in this crazy world where you can get so insanely drunk, and people barely even blink an eye.  They know you’ll get home okay right after you stop to get your routine pizza or burrito, and in the morning you’ll be ready to go again.  It’s nothing out of the blue to get “really f***** up” or black out every night.

I’m not saying your party days are over (and I’m definitely not innocent) but you need to reprogram yourself to really learn how to drink correctly.  If you’re someone who frequently blacks out, you need to start watching how many drinks it takes you to get a buzz.  Once you start to feel it, that’s your yellow or even red light… it’s not a green light to keep going.  Once you reprogram yourself to be an actual functioning person at the bar, you’ll realize just how much better it is.  Your mind, body, and wallet will thank you. And if you’re like me… two years out of college you’ll be going home at 11:30 PM because you genuinely enjoy waking up at 8 AM on Saturdays now. I know… I’ll let that one sink in. 

4. Time to find the exercise activity that you love!

Again, assuming you’re like me, your party ways added to your party weight.  Time to test out the waters, and find a new exercise that works for you, and your life.  Don’t hate yourself that it’s taking some time to shed off those senior year beers.  It took some time to get that weight on you, and it’s going to take some time to get it off!

5. Embrace the uncertainty of it all, and be patient.

I’m talking to myself on this one, too.  I basically start my day with a morning coffee, and a mini life crisis.  Throughout the day, I proceed to change my life path about 5 times.  “I want to get my MBA, then PHD, write a book, and be the world’s greatest professor.” (5 minutes later) “Wait, what about design school? Or an art degree? Then I’ll start a clothing, and design company.” (3 hours later) “I should just find a way to be Kim Kardashian.  Yeah, definitely Kim.  No, maybe Khloe.  Wait, but like I really love Kourtney’s house, and her kids are so cute.”  That last option seems a bit farfetched, but you see where I’m going with this.  It can be scary to be 22 or 23 or however old you are right now while reading this.  You look at the long stretch of your life that is no longer measured in semesters, and think “This life is mine to lead, and I’m not even sure if I’m on the right road.”  It can be overwhelming to look at all of the different options in life, and feel confident that you’re choosing the right things for you.  Trust your gut, and explore.  In two years, you will be able to more easily say “Nope, not for me!”  I look at the 5 year plan that I made when I had just graduated, and it’s so bare in comparison to the one I was able to make this past year. Whether you make a huge U-turn, or you keep hitch hiking along, it will start to piece together. 

6. Other things: 

Don’t be mean to your roommate, or take your  post work stress out on them.  Don’t be so hard on yourself, either.  Learn to budget/learn to live within your means.  I didn’t write a whole paragraph about this, because I haven’t mastered it.  I just really like buying clothes, okay? 

So, dear alumnus of whatever alma mater, stay calm, and stay interested.  Call your roommates (yes, you will forever call them your roommates), take a deep breath, and go find yourself!