It’s unreal. I’ve been out of undergrad for one year exactly today. My alma mater held its graduation ceremony yesterday (Congrats, Sewanee Class of 2019!) and I’m feeling all kinds of sentimental. In my post “5 Things I Wish I Knew as a First Generation College Student,” I touched on my college experience, with its challenges and victories. Walking across that stage was the greatest success of all after the studying and work it takes to earn that degree. I started thinking about the past year, and about how much I’ve been through in just a short time. The first year outside academia, outside the comfort of school and the protection of being in undergrad, is startling. None of us have things figured out. If you feel like you’re in limbo with knowing your path, I get it. Here are 5 pieces of advice I have for college grads after being in your shoes just a year ago!
1 // Don’t let people make you feel insignificant. You’re not.
I never liked confrontation. But within the past year and a half, I’ve had to stand up for myself more than in the rest of my life. I’ve always been sensitive and would get deeply hurt by people that doubted or criticized me. Safe to say, that’s over. After some events in Ukraine, the Dominican Republic, and at my university before I graduated, I grew a second, tougher skin. When people spoke down to me because I’m a young woman gaining her footing in the world, I stood up for myself. All those times that men who don’t even know or work with me thought it was a-okay to tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing, I made it clear that it was not acceptable to speak to me that way. When I had a disagreement with a nonprofit, I didn’t allow them to place the blame on me for some logistical issues they had with my volunteer stay. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. Stand up for yourself! People may be inclined to make you feel insignificant because you’re a fresh college grad, but you’re not.
2 // Find ways to do what you’re really, truly passionate about
I love volunteering, working with nonprofits, writing, and graphic design. When I was in the Peace Corps, I had the opportunity to design marketing content for my host organization every day. It was an absolute pleasure! I loved getting to tune into my creative side and truly enjoy my daily tasks. Now that I write and design graphics for clients, I still get to do what I really like and on my own schedule. Even if your first job out of college isn’t what you expected, dedicate some of your free time to do something for yourself. Free time is so, so important. As a yogi, I make sure to let loose with at least 3 classes a week. My day is so much more productive when I set aside time for myself.
Finding and pursuing your passion is one of the most important things in life. Don’t take that lightly! I know so many people that stay in jobs they hate for income security. Use the next few years to dabble and find out what you really love to do, and then pursue it with everything you’ve got.
3 // Don’t blow all your money!
I know you probably read that and thought, what money? I’ve been there, and I’m still there, and I’ll probably be there for a long time. Even though my first big-girl job out of college provided a low-paying stipend, I know how to budget. I have lived on a very low amount of money for the cost of living in my community and I managed to still have savings. I mainly did that through cooking at home instead of eating out, not buying alcohol in restaurants or bars, and not shopping for clothes and other items I didn’t need. Now that I’m a freelancer and I’m still trying to figure out a healthy income flow through that source, I do get lunch or coffee with friends and invest in a few services to maintain my blog. But I still want to make sure that I have plenty in savings and investments. Having that nest egg for a rainy day is so, so important! So this Saturday night, instead of going out, invite friends over and make cocktails at home from scratch!
4 // Treat your body well
Your first job, fellowship, paid internship, volunteer service, or whatever full-time gig you’re doing will be a stressful experience. It will likely be rewarding as well, but stress comes with every phase of life. I work on treating my body well daily, but it’s difficult when a client needs edits ASAP and I’m working on Pinterest marketing for my blog all at the same time. It’s so important to set aside time in your day to exercise, get outside, prep healthy meals, and give yourself a break from the hectic day-to-day. When work has you bogged down, or trying to Google and figure out important things like taxes and insurance is just too much right now, health can go out the window. Before you reach burnout, try to take care of yourself now!
5 // Keep up with friends from your college years
My best friends from college have been such blessings in my life. We’ve been there for each other through thick and thin. If you can say the same, and I do hope you can, then keep them close. Chances are, you’ll all go your separate ways far and wide after graduation. Keep one another in the loop about all the awesome things you’re doing. Plan visits to see everyone. Have FaceTime dates to just catch up. I so wish that I could see all my college friends at the drop of a hat like I used to take for granted. For now, I’m grateful to have the flexibility so I can visit them whenever I want to…and whenever those BNA-ORD plane tickets are cheap!
It’s okay to have no idea what you’re doing. When I graduated, I had this ten-year plan of Peace Corps, grad school, nonprofit work, etc. If you’re familiar with my Peace Corps story, then you know that didn’t quite work out. If anything, I have an even more opaque idea of what the future holds for me. And I’m just now allowing myself to transition from a whole different life on the other side of the world to being a freelancer. Our society places so much pressure on us to know every step we’ll take. Give yourself time to learn about yourself and what you want to do. Everything will fall into place!
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