You know that super panicky feeling you get when you’re wearing a gray t-shirt, running late, and profusely starting to nervous sweat? That’s how I spent most of my early 20’s. It was mirrored with energy, optimism, and excitement to finally be out of academia of course, but getting thrown straight into the great big scary world of adulthood was a lot for my young, tender self. I no longer had the comfort of my collegiate clique. There was no syllabus to follow. There was certainly no curriculum for “carving your own path.” It was the first time in my life that I didn’t know what my next 10 steps were.
Although I don’t think four (or more) years of undergraduate studies or a 20 minute commencement speech can really prepare you for real life — only real life prepares you for real life — there are a few pearls of wisdom that I wish had accompanied my diploma. Here are twelve that would have been particularly helpful straight out of the gate.
1 | Your college degree doesn’t define who you are or what you will do for the rest of your life.
Just because you majored in molecular biology doesn’t mean you have to become a molecular biologist after graduation. You are allowed to change your mind. You are allowed to zig-zag between career paths, try new things, and experiment with different titles. I know countless people who are doing the exact opposite of what they studied in school. And whatever that was, you’ll likely take bits and pieces of your degree with you along on your journey, but it doesn’t have to be the whole kit and kaboodle. Your 20’s are essentially a time to play dress-up, try on new hats, and see what fits.
2 | There is no rush to find a “career.”
Despite what your senior advisor says, you don’t have to have your life figured out. You’re still a student, learning how to be you. You are not a lesser person because you don’t have a 9-5 job. There is no ultimate deadline for you to do all the things you planned to do after graduation. Of course, making money is necessary to function in society, but having a handful of unconventional experiences under your belt is far more interesting.
3 | A diet that consists of wine and cheese is not sustainable.
You cannot live on wine and cheese forever. I’m sorry. Learn how to cook for yourself. (It’s okay if you make the same five meals over and over again.) You’ll save money and feel much better in your body.
4 | Don’t freak out if you hate your job. You can always find another one.
It won’t tarnish your resume or ruin your five-year plan. It might alter it a bit but that’s a good thing. I wish I would have learned this sooner. It would have saved me at least three months worth of existential angst and approximately 10 gallons of tears.
5 | Your sleep is RLY RLY important.
Who TF do you think you are running on four (or less) hours of sleep?!? You need a solid eight hours per night or you will burn out by age 25 and develop Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. And you don’t want that.
6 | No one is having as much fun as they portray on Instagram.
Tattoo this into your psyche: “I will not compare myself to the people I see on the Internet.” No one is having as much fun as you think they are. No one is always on vacation. You are not missing out. (And btw, she took 27 selfies before finally settling on that picture.) What you see online is only a bite-sized piece of a much larger story. No one’s life is perfect. There are so many things happening beneath the surface that we can’t see. Instead of focusing on who you’re not, how you’re not measuring up, and all the things you’re not doing, work on feeling comfortable with yourself and who you are.
7 | It’s okay to be rejected.
You’re going to be rejected a lot. Much more than you’d like. But don’t take it personally. Learn to cope with it. Let it motivate you. Life never happens in a straight line. There will be roadblocks, detours, and speed bumps along the way but eventually it will all make sense. It might take years and years of hindsight to realize, but someday in your future you will be grateful you got fired, he stood you up, and she never responded to your email. Don’t let rejection keep you from putting yourself out there. Look for creative backdoor solutions. No one’s ever been you before.
8 | Your career trajectory is not an accurate barometer of success.
If you’re not exactly where you thought you’d be at this point in time, join the club! And while you’re at it, please remind yourself that your work has absolutely nothing to do with your worth as a human being and what you’ve accomplished thus far professionally is only one super small part of you. You are way more complex than that.
9 | You CAN say NO.
You don’t have to respond to your boss’ 11pm email. It can wait until the morning. You don’t have to work the weekend to impress your co-workers. You don’t have to meet your friends for drinks every Thursday night. You don’t actually have to do all the things you think you’re supposed to do. You can say no. You can stay in. Why didn’t anyone tell me this sooner?
10 | Even the people that look like they have their sh*t together, don’t feel like they have their sh*t together.
“Having your sh*t together” is a relative term. We’re all just faking it, anyway.
11 | That worry doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
I wish I listened every time someone reminded me of this. Perspective has never been my strong suit. You will forget about that fight with your boyfriend (you’ll probably have a new one next week) and you will get over your C+ in economics. Remember, whatever you’re currently worrying about probably isn’t that important.
12 | You are not stuck no matter how stuck you might feel RN.
I wish I could have seen this when I was fresh out of college but it’s so hard to remember when you’re in it and every step feels like mile 20 of the Boston Marathon. You’ll figure it out: what you want to do, where you want to live, who you want to spend your time with. I know it’s cliché and sounds cheesy, but try to enjoy the journey for what it is: a journey.
Jessica Sweeney is a self-proclaimed literista, wellness aficionado, spirited nutritionist, and certified yoga instructor living her best life in Laguna Beach. Follow her on her website Urban Alchemy, admire her selfies on Instagram, and join her for Love Bomb Bootcamp, a mind, body, soul bootcamp for (self)lovers.