8 Surprising Lessons I've Learned After College

December 8, 2015

Even though I’ve been out of college for three years now, this was really the first year that I’ve felt truly adult, in the sense that the glimmer and optimistic sheen of post-college life have worn off. It’s the first time I feel like I’m finally acclimating, and simultaneously wishing that I had gone directly to grad school or took a year off to travel. I’d call it Adult Life: The Unabridged Version.

The experience of life post-college is obviously different for everyone, but there are certain universal feelings with which most of us can identify: floundering, uncertainty, freedom, regret. The feeling of wanting to abandon your desk and crawl into bed. Brainstorming ways to earn more money, and wondering why in the world you chose to study liberal arts. Amidst this chaos and solitude, I think we can all enumerate some of the most important lessons we learned after donning a cap and gown. Here are mine.

8 Surprising Lessons I've Learned After College

1. Almost nothing is certain

There’s an odd comfort that comes with college–despite the stresses of exams and papers, many of us are lucky enough to have our parents to fall back on if things get tough. And actually, my parents are still around to support me (emotionally, physically, financially) if I ever needed it, but there’s definitely a shift in support when making the transition to life post-college. With it, you’ll begin to notice the uncertainty of everything. I remember when, just after I moved to Boston, I found out that I’d have to move out of my beloved apartment at the end of that summer. I was also head-over-heels for a guy whom I thought was beyond perfect…and then he stopped talking to me, breaking up with me (over gchat, you guys) a week later. Almost nothing is certain, everything is temporary, yet time has a way of humbling us and making us stronger each year that passes.

2. It’s really easy to spend money

You probably knew this in college too, right? Well, the reality of finances becomes ever-present when you’re the only one supporting yourself. This reality was made abundantly clear to me when, upon being hired for a new position for 5k more, I proceeded to buy a new wardrobe, paid more to reserve a bus seat to NYC, and bought a $300 winter coat. A month later, I looked at my credit card statement in horror. Spending $10 here and there might seem insignificant, but it adds up really, really quickly. See #6 for how to save 🙂

3. Fairness is not mandatory

If you thought your professors played favorites in college, just wait until you see what happens when you start your first full-time job. Yes, it’s totally unfair that hard-working people are subject to an absurd amount of criticism while other, lazy people somehow win all of the boss’s affections. It’s unfair, but not uncommon. In any situation where you’re tempted to lament a high level of unfairness, try to remind yourself that life’s not supposed to be fair. It might sound glib, but remembering that adulthood isn’t supposed to be a walk in the park really does temper my angst.

4. Excuses don’t change anything

To learn this lesson, you’ll likely have to find out the hard way. No matter the legitimacy of your rationale, an excuse for arriving late, missing a deadline, forgetting to call someone, etc. is pretty much moot. Once you’re completely responsible for yourself, you’ll see that excuses only serve to undermine your autonomy–and no one wants that.

5. Find “home” and carry it with you wherever you go

The definition of “home” is mutable and unpredictable; one day, it might mean sitting in your favorite armchair, and the next, it could be the seemingly infinite space between your lover’s fingers. Don’t be surprised if it takes time to find your little pieces of home. The transition from college to so-called real life is rocky, and it’s possible that you’ll create many different versions of safety and comfort during the next few years.

6. Shop in bulk, and make friends with bartenders

….which is to say that food and booze are expensive. No longer on a student loan-funded meal plan, I’m always looking for ways to eat healthfully while spending as little as possible. I also don’t want to spend a portion of my salary on alcohol. If you’re the same way, prioritize your needs, adjust your budget as necessary, and maybe make friends with a bartender.

7. Embarrassment still happens–but take everything in stride

Example: last Friday at work, I was trying to make a call outside of the office. In order to do so, I have to dial the numbers 9-1 preceding any phone number. I must have dialed 9-1 and hung up, because 10 minutes later the office manager was ushering a police officer to my desk to make sure I was okay. I wanted to promptly hide under my desk for the rest of the day, but part of growing up is learning to laugh at yourself and move forward with confidence. I’m still working on this, but I’m learning.

8. Roommates suck, but make it work

Did you really think you’d be done with roommates after college? I certainly did. Then I found a job in one of the most expensive cities in the country, making a meager salary at a non-profit, and I was forced to succumb to the Craigslist gods. There’s no question: roommates suck. I am not a roommate person in any sense of the word, but I’ve had to accept the fact that I’ll be co-habitating with strangers until I can afford to live alone.

Learn about what you value and, conversely, cannot stand in a roommate. Adjust your search parameters to these preferences. For example, on the whole I get along much better with men, so I try to only look for openings with male roommates. Most importantly, realize that this is not a permanent living situation, and try to make the best of it.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned after college?

Also by Molly: 3 Ways to Live Happily on a Budget

How Yoga Helped My OCD

Related: The Linguistics of Staying Present and Finding Peace

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Photo: Ian Schneider via Unsplash

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Contributing Editor Molly Lansdowne lives in Boston, Massachusetts. In her free time, she enjoys writing, practicing yoga, and traveling around New England. Follow Molly on Pinterest @bostonvegan and Instagram @molly_lansdowne.


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