To the Graduate: What I Wasn't Prepared For
It’s that time of year again. The caps and gowns come out, the graduation invitations have been sent (hopefully a little money has come back in return too ;) ) and boom- we are sent off into the world.
Whether your graduating from high school or college, there’s a lot of change coming no matter what. You might be going to college, you might be leaving home for the first time, starting your first job, or you may have absolutely zero idea what you are doing- whatever the path, one thing is certain: nothing is going to be certain. AND THAT’S OKAY. Man oh man, if there’s one thing I wish I had believed when I graduated, it’s that.
Our whole lives, from all directions, I feel like we are fed this “ideal” script of what a successful life is supposed to look like. Our family, friends, teachers, mentors, social media, heck- society as a whole- feed us the same message: Go to school, get a degree, pick a “successful” profession, secure a good job, get married, buy a home, have kids, raise them right, move up the career ladder, have grandkids, die happy. Sound familiar…? These expectations are so subtle and normalized that we hardly even notice the influence they have on how we view our lives and our level of success. Don’t get me wrong, these are great goals to have for your life- and there’s nothing wrong with desiring these things BUT there’s a key factor I, and many others tend to forget: none of that list can be certain.
So since none of that perfect path comes with any guarantee, what happens when our lives don’t look exactly like this? Because they probably won’t. What happens when life decides to take you in a different direction? Because it probably will. No one talks about this part until it’s happening to them. You might not have graduated with the degree you intended to, didn’t get into the graduate school you wanted, may not have a job lined up, you got a job- but it is nowhere near your dream job, might not have found the love of your life yet, might not be financially able to move out of your parents’ house yet. So many variables. And for those graduates in this boat, the question now tends to be…..
UM. WHAT. NOW?! What’s there to look forward to now? What’s my purpose? Am I really making any impact in the world?
Graduating really has a way of bringing up these emotions, stress and sometimes, full out identity-crisis. And it can be scary, lonely and down-right defeating.
Since I was 14 years old I had a “plan” of what I wanted my life to look like- go to college, graduate, get married by 22, kids by 25, get a good job that I love to go to every single day, and make a financially stress-free life for myself and my family. Basically, the perfect modern girl fairytale. I subconsciously cultivated this as the look of success in my life. The only look for my life. I honestly just assumed it would work out that way and I really never thought about it looking any different. That is until I got to 22, graduated and welp… life didn’t look like that at all. When life decided to take a different path, it felt like defeat- when in reality it wasn’t failure, it wasn’t defeat, it was just different. Different than the “Modern-woman standard of success” I so tightly clung to.
My identity was wrapped up in the ideal of who I wanted to be, rather than the present reality of what was.
Speaking of identity- I think this is the other big issue recent graduates deal with. Graduation is a wonderful time of celebration of success, but it’s also a good-bye to a whole former way of life. A somewhat forced farewell to everything from your city, school, home, friend group, club, sports team, ext., you were once so closely associated with. In my case, I was no longer “Kaitlyn, the athlete, teammate, college student, FCA leader, student nutrition club president, college ministry leader”- you get it. I didn’t even notice it as first. In fact, it wasn’t even until a few months after graduation, once I was settled into my new, post-undergrad pace, that I even started to feel this way. Although I had new responsibilities and titles to replace those prior ones, it still felt like I was losing so much of who I was because I had identified myself as a part of those groups for so long. I was in graduate school, surrounded by good people, a great family, good health- really just a good life; but I still felt this deep lack-of-purpose/ “who am I?” feeling.
It’s been almost exactly a year since my college graduation and I’ve really thought a lot about this since then.
So why was this feeling of inadequacy such a reoccurring theme in my mind and the minds of SO many other graduates I’ve talked to??
My conclusion is that we are obsessed with the idea of being known, being accepted, and being validated by others. It’s no surprise we are this way though. Living in this age of social media, it’s impossible to escape the highlight reels (b/c they are just people’s highlights, even yours, let’s be honest) of everyone else’s lives. It’s much easier to find yourself comparing your life to others when you are constantly exposing yourself to it. Maybe others are getting married, maybe others are getting their dream job, maybe others are moving across the country—but THEY are not YOU. We are not all going to do the same thing and we are not all going to do them at the same time. We are all in our own process, on our own paths, so why do we expect to all end up at the same destination?? Just because my path does not look like yours, does not mean it is more or less successful. Theodore Roosevelt was on to something when we said, “Comparison is the thief of all joy”.
So how do we practically fight this comparison? To feel as if you are making an impact in the world, and not just taking up space?
Here’s a few practical things that have helped me.
1. GET OFF YO PHONE!
Seriously, limit your time on social media! It’s so easy to get sucked into everyone else’s lives through a screen, but if you find you’re feeling worse about yourself every time you scroll through Instagram- it might be time to take a break. Not only can it make you feel better about yourself because you aren’t constantly exposing yourself to that comparison, you’re freeing up soooo much more time to invest in your own life!! Being fully present with others and even just fully present with myself has done wonders for my passion, intuition and creativity.
2. Write out your own goals and ambitions.
Get a piece of paper and a pen, sit down without any distractions and really take time to list out what you want to do with your life and what’s important to you. Not what should be important, not typically “good” passions, YOUR PASSIONS. Be as detailed and imaginative as you want. Then…. Find ways to take steps toward that goal! Living a life that is aligned with your God-given, unique passions will leave you so much more fulfilled than trying to keep up with someone else’s.
3. Be in the moment.
I find that when I’m always looking toward a future life I’m working toward, or the past things I’ve done that might have slowed my progress- it really distracts me from the impact I can make today!! You can’t change the past and you can’t control the future- all you have is now. It’s cliché, but it’s so true. How many friendships, opportunities, simple joys of life have we missed because we are so consumed with what we’re doing (or what we’re scrolling through on our phones!).
My sister recently shared a quote with me from a book called, Present Over Perfect, that I think says it best-
“Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in the reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in, instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairytale. Present means we understand that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through the divinity even in its plainness. Especially in its plainness.”
So as you walk across that stage and throw that graduation cap in the air- remember you are your own person with your own story. Your path is unique to you, no one else’s story would do. Lastly, look how far you’ve already come!! Graduating in itself is proof enough that you can do anything you can put your mind to. Be proud of that! You did it!