At the beginning of my final semester in college, I felt like I was in a really great place. I was doing well in all of my classes, lived in a terrace apartment with close friends, had a cubicle paid internship at a big company, and had lots of fun with my doctor boyfriend. Post-grad life looked like the right choice. I was already an adult. If anything, school was holding me back from being the incredible icon I was destined to be.
Fast forward six months. I am underemployed, dumped, living with my parents, and crying every day. There’s a lot to complain about and I’m hardly the first person in this situation. That said, here are nine things I wish I’d known about graduating a semester early.
Your Friends Are in a Completely Different Zone
When I see my friends from college, I’m happy to see them, but we live on different planets. For some, the future is bright- full of endless opportunities and a new level of independence. For others, post- grad looks impossible and depressing. The only consolation prize is an escape from the anxiety and hardships of college. I oscillate between offering tipsy, consoling pep talks and drunken, grumpy reality checks. Interacting with people who have already graduated can feel better at times. It’s reassuring to find other people who went through what you did or are currently experiencing something similar. Even when I feel alone, I know there are tons of other people feeling just as lost and confused.
Informational Interviews Are the Worst
I’m not saying not to do them. You should. That’s what everyone says. But after doing way too many of them, they start to blend together. Maybe you’ll have a great chat that leads to an opportunity, but probably not. Most of the time, I’m out five bucks because I had to buy a coffee at the fancy coffee shop we met at and yet another person told me to “keep doing what I’m doing.” I’ve learned that it’s ok to take a break from informational interviews, especially when you’re no longer gaining information. Meetings go well (or at least better) when you have a positive outlook and want to meet the other person, so take a break if you need it.
Living at Home Sucks
Yes, I’m aware that this is not news, so I’ll skip the reasons why. Instead, here’s some advice that I need to take more of: find your own space outside of the house. As I learned when I lived with a over-sexually active roommate, there are infinite new and old places in the neighborhood to explore and hole up in. So, go find a nice drawbridge and set up camp underneath it.
Trust No One
Piper Chapman was right about one thing. Friends, lovers, and family members support us during hard times, but remember to rely on yourself for the time when someone inevitably cannot be there for you. There are lots of reasons: falling out with friends, growing apart, a dear friend moves away, conscious uncoupling, a family member needs to focus on his/her own issues, someone turns out to be an asshole, you turn out to be an asshole. No matter what the situation, graduating early reminded me of a lesson that got a bit muddled for me when I opened myself up more and constantly leaned on others for support, which is especially easy on a college campus when all your friends live in the vicinity. Trusting and being supported by other people is great, but the most important and consistent person there to help you is yourself.
Know Your Self-Worth
I’ve had this conversation with lots of people and I still don’t know the right answer. So, if someone could tell me, that would be great: When can I stop working for free? For survival reasons, almost everyone needs some form of income and, in many cases, doing unpaid internships or volunteer work is a privilege. But, as many millenials know, experience is key and that often comes from working for free. In my opinion, whether to work for free or not really depends on whether or not you’re learning from and enjoying the experience. If you dramatically liken your unpaid labor to indentured servitude, then it’s time to quit. Which leads me to the next point!
You Deserve Respect!
In university, there’s (ideally) a system in place that prevents an administrator or professor from treating you like a turd. In the workplace, particularly non-contract and blue collar labor, little to nothing stops your boss or coworker from cursing at you, shouting at you, etc. Particularly for women and POC, we are taught to keep our heads down and pay our dues. I believe paying your dues means working hard and staying late, but not being disrespected. Only you know how much shit you’re willing to take, but I’m on your side and I support you if you don’t take no shit.
When I’m making little to no money, I sometimes feel like I need to punish myself and don’t deserve to have fun. But you’re in your 20s and you’re trying your best, so you still get to have a life. It doesn’t have to be expensive fun. If you live in a city, there are always plenty of free events. Otherwise, gather your friends and a bag of chips- instant, cheap party. (Yes, I consider a gathering of multiple people and the presence of chips to be a party.) Keeping your own morale up is important. Also, living at home reminds me of why my parents are cool- cooler than me TBH. If you want, your parents can be your friends too; and people of all ages just want to have fun.
Put On Pants
This is so simple, but has probably been the most important lesson I could ever learn. Not just sweatpants or shorts, but real pants with a zipper and a button! If you were still in school, you’d have to put on pants, don’t stop now! What I’m saying is: Keep doing the little things that you’ve always done, even if you’re feeling down and like how you present yourself doesn’t matter. So, if you normally put on makeup, wear earrings, whatever it is – keep looking like a person because you’re not dead yet. And if you do die, don’t you want to look nice? For me, this means putting on big girl pants and brushing my hair.
Time Is a Social Construct
For a long time, I dreamt of becoming successful at a young age, if not right away. But life is long. Struggles and successes ebb and flow. The other day, my fortune cookie told me this: After every valley, there is a hill. I interpreted it negatively, while my mother interpreted it positively. Either way, I finally understand it. Whether you graduate early, on time, or late, only you know what the right decision is and the rest, good and bad, will fall into place.
By Jillian Elkin
Jillian is an aspiring princess living in New York City. She is a recent graduate of Vassar College where she studied Film. Her talents include filmmaking, creative writing, and bringing people coffee for free. For fun, she makes her friends watch plot-less, foreign-language art movies.
Other pieces by Jillian: I Think My Depression Took Away My Ability To Consent