6 things I learned during my first summer as a college graduate

It’s been bittersweet saying goodbye to so many friends in the last week. Walla Walla is losing some wonderful people as the Class of 2014 heads off into the world, but I’m excited to see where the amazing and talented people I got to know at Whitman go from here.

I remember graduating a year ago – that sentence terrifies me slightly – and struggling to find footholds during my first few month of post-graduate freedom, so I thought I’d list a few things I learned during that transition period.

I’m not preaching to anyone here – you do you – and my experiences are to a degree particular to getting a job immediately post-grad instead of traveling or going to grad school. And it’s very possible all of this stuff is really obvious and I’m just slow on the uptake. But if you’re wondering “did anyone else feel like this?” or not sure where to start, maybe this will help.

1) Sleep debt is really, really real.

You’ve  probably spent the past four years not getting a lot of sleep. If your senior year was at all like mine, the past few months were probably especially bad. Two nights of conking out for 12 hours once you get home aren’t going to make that up.

It took me weeks of getting good sleep consistently before I stopped feeling exhausted all the time. So don’t skimp on making up your sleep debt now that you have the time.

This goes for anything else related to your wellbeing that you put off while you were in school. If you stopped exercising or eating healthy food or neglected a bunch of cavities, now is the time to straighten that shit out. Get in the habit of taking care of yourself.

2) If you approach real life like college, you’ll burn out in three months

In college, I evaluated my workload by asking myself, “Can I survive this for three months?” Overachievers of the world know the pattern: you load up on classes, extracurriculars and more, run yourself into the ground for a semester, and then get winter/summer break to recuperate.

Adult jobs do not work like this. Working at the pace you set for yourself in college is a surefire way to feel exhausted, miserable and undervalued three months into your first job. Take a deep breath. Slow down.

Focus on building relationships with coworkers, setting long-term goals and working at a steady pace. You have more than one semester to make the difference you want to make in whatever organization you’re part of.

3) Rejection is normal. And it sucks.

If you’re entering the workforce, you will apply for 10 jobs you’re qualified for, and none of them will take the time to email or call you to tell you you didn’t the the job. It sucks. It just does. There’s no sugarcoating how hard it is to put a lot of work into something, get yourself excited for it, and get let down. Especially if you’re unemployed, or you hate your current job, or all your friends seem to be doing fine.

There’s no silver bullet here, but know you’re not alone in this. Your wildly successful friends were turned down for internships. I’ve been rejected for every job and internship I’ve applied for since graduating. Find people who can remind you that you’re still amazing. Find friends who’ve been through the same thing and will buy you dinner or a drink or a movie ticket when it happens to you. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, job-wise, whether that’s training yourself for a new skill or taking up a career as an activist to make the economy suck less (we’ll all thank you for that one).

4) Feeling socially isolated is normal. And it sucks too.

It’s rough to go from living half a mile (at most) away from all your friends to a city where you might not know anyone (or where the people you do know are spread out and busy). College makes socializing easy by forcing you to meet new people all the time and facilitating a never-ending stream of events and parties to go to. You might start out your adult life without a lot of friends nearby, and that can lead to loneliness really quickly.

That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to having no social life, but…

5) Finding friends might look different than what you’re used to

The single best way I’ve found to meet people in a new place is by doing stuff. Volunteering and doing roller derby have all given me opportunities to get to know people and fill the social holes that were created when all my friends evaporated after graduating.

Doing an activity takes a bunch of the pressure off of chatting with someone casually to see if you get along, and it also exposes you to a much bigger and more diverse group of people. If skating isn’t your thing, try finding Meetup groups for common interests, becoming a regular at a bar or restaurant (if you can afford it), joining a gym, taking a class or just asking coworkers to go out for a drink after work.

It’s going to take more work than you’re used to, and it might feel awkward. It helps to remind yourself that most humans enjoy being social, and most people your age are looking for friends or people to hang out with. So don’t be afraid to get someone’s number, invite them over or otherwise express an interest in Becoming Friends. You won’t die, I promise.

Be open to friendships with people you might not have interacted with much before graduating. School tends to segregate people by age, but once you’re out, you’ll end up befriending people several decades older than you who come from all kinds of different backgrounds. Embrace it.

6) You might enjoy having less of a social life

Senior year, I felt a lot of pressure to Do Stuff With People, because all of us were operating with the knowledge that in a few months, we’d scatter to the winds and never again have the opportunity to go camping/watch a movie together/climb the WWCC dome/get ice cream.

Having a whirlwind set of social opportunities is fun, but after graduating, I’ve also come to enjoy not feeling like I’m missing a bunch of fantastic opportunities every weekend if I don’t go out. If you find yourself, by choice or circumstance, in a less social place, that’s okay. Rediscover your love of young adult literature (hello, summer of 2013) or knitting or some other hobby you totally stopped doing in college because you ran out of time. Get back in shape. Write poetry. Tackle your Netflix queue. There’s a lot you can do solo with your newfound freedom, even if you’re working full time.

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