This is a bit of a follow-up to last week’s letter to college girls. Today, I’d like to talk specifically to college seniors and recent grads. Let me just warn you up front. It’s going to be pretty grim, but I hope you’ll read all the way to the end because there is a light at the end of the crap tunnel. I’m going to start with the seniors, then talk through my year-after-college experience, then go back to offer some advice to both seniors and fresh graduates. Here we go.
Get pumped, y’all! It’s your SENIOR YEAR!!!! Raise your hand if you’ve got the Senioritis already. Yeah, I remember. I want to walk you through what you’re going to experience over the next two years, and recent grads, back me up.
And why not? You’ve been working your butt off for a long time to get here. You’ve been in school since you were five, and now FINALLY! You’ll be finished with it all and can move on to living LIFE. But first, you’ve got some partying to do. Maybe your partying involves loud noises and Solo cups, or maybe it involves sleep-overs and silly, sober shenanigans. Either way, you want this whole college thing to end with a bang. As well it should. Live it up, still-in-college girl. And take lots of pictures while you’re at it.
At some point your senior year, you’ll start to realize that it’s all ending, and that’s not just exciting. It’s kind of terrifying. “Oh my gosh,” you’ll think, “I’m only 21. Do they seriously let 21-year-olds live on their own and have jobs and pay bills all by themselves?” Some of you will add, “Oh my gosh, I’m getting married. Do they seriously let 22-year-olds be married and live on their own together? To fend for themselves? And buy HOUSES?” Lucky for you, you’re 21 (or 22), and at that age, you still feel invincible enough to keep groping your way forward in the world pretty optimistically. This wears off a bit later on, which I think is a bit of a tragedy because I really want to learn to skateboard, but I’ve never broken a bone (knock on wood), and I don’t want to start now.
So you’ll get flashes of worry, but usually the excitement and just total lack of foresight will wash them away, and you’ll be back to the partying.
CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!! YOU MADE IT!!!!!!! I remember two moments from my last week of college very clearly.
- The first is me walking home from turning in my last college assignment ever. All my exams were over, and I’d just turned in my last paper. And I DANCED down the street and up the hill to my dorm.
- The second is me standing backstage at my departmental graduation. They handed everyone an index card and told us to write down what we wanted the announcer to say about us as we walked across the stage – people we wanted to thank, future plans, etc. And I was all, “Wait, wait, wait. We’re supposed to have a PLAN?! What the cuss do I know about who I am and what I’m going to do and what they should say about me?” Here’s what I wrote (and I am not even kidding):
“Following a two-month mission trip to Honduras, Beth plans to pursue a career as an educational singer/songwriter.”
BECAUSE I HAD NO PLAN FOR AFTER THE SUMMER. None. Whatsoever. No job, no clue what kind of job I wanted, no clue where I wanted to live or who or what I wanted to be. And in that moment, holding that index card, it was like I was holding the blank page on which I would write the rest of my life, but I had suddenly become illiterate.
Ever-so-Brief Respite from Reality
Maybe you’ll get the summer to rest and sort some things out. Maybe you’ll get to work with deaf kids in Honduras, or maybe you’ll backpack through Europe (I wholeheartedly recommend both). Maybe you’ll move back home and let your mom do your laundry while you figure it out and look for a job. Or maybe you’re one of those on-the-ball people who has a job lined up already before graduation. You won’t get a vacation, but you will get a short honeymoon phase in which “real life” is as awesome as you always imagined it to be. Enjoy this time, however it looks. Enjoy it as much as possible.
Total Crap Time
My whole first year out of college was awful. There were good things – I was living with my sister, which was a lot of fun, I took a stab at what I wanted to do and got into the grad school I wanted, and I developed a few really important friendships – but I remember that year as being just terrible. I cried a lot, I felt very alone and confused, and worst of all, I couldn’t figure out why it was so hard. I’ve had several years to work on it, though, and now I can explain it to you.
My goal in this is not to scare or depress you. I want you to know what’s coming so that you feel less alone and confused than I did, which might keep you from crying as much as I did. I can’t guarantee that, but I also want you to know that when you’re in this time, if you need to cry, you can call me to do it. That way, at least you won’t be alone.
Here’s what’s happening:
- You don’t know who you are any more. Your whole life, you’ve been a student. I went to preschool, then K-12, then college. I didn’t know anything else, but I knew REALLY well how to be a student, and I was good at it. Then suddenly, I was a barista, and I didn’t know how to be a barista, and I wasn’t sure I was any good at it, and I kind of hated it because they made me wear polo shirts and khakis (double barf). Without realizing it, I had based my entire identity and self-worth on who I was as a student, so when I wasn’t a student anymore, I was lost highly suspicious of my value.
- You don’t know how to relate to people because your identity is lost. It’s like you’re looking at a big, crazy, people/relationships map, but there’s no X telling you, “You are here.” When you don’t know who YOU are, you don’t know how to be you with anyone else. Every relationship is confusing and hard.
- You don’t know who God is. You’ve heard all your life (and you believe) that God doesn’t change, and it’s true, but in the Old Testament, people are all the time giving God new names based on how they’ve just experienced him. Hagar calls him “God who sees,” David calls him “God my shepherd,” and Abraham calls him “the Lord will provide.” Through different experiences, people see different aspects of God’s character. So far, you’ve experienced God as a student, and you’ve probably seen many aspects of his character, but now you feel like most of those don’t apply, and you’re left wondering if this God who doesn’t change is still relevant now that you have.
- Your friends have scattered. Remember when I told you to enjoy college because you get to see your buddies all the time? Here’s why I told you that. Either you are going to move or your people are. You’ll likely know a few folks wherever you are, but it just won’t be the same. People are meant to be with other people, and all the people who know you and love you best will be somewhere else. Total crap time.
Figuring It Out
Friends, it gets better. Just hang in there. Making friends outside of school will be weird for a while because you’re still figuring out who you are, but it is doable because your core identity hasn’t actually changed, and the people you meet will see who you are and like you even while you’re still trying to work it all out. You, like the people in the Old Testament, will experience new aspects of God if you keep looking for him, and you’ll realize that he doesn’t change, but there’s SO much more of him than you ever imagined. And at some point, you’ll get a spark of revelation about what you want to do with your life, and you’ll move forward with courage and ambition because you’re excited about what lies ahead.
* * * * *
If you’re just out of college, and you are currently in “Total Crap Time,” seriously, it does get better. Email me if you want to chat. You can come over for dinner and alcohol, and I’ll look you in the eye and tell you it gets better. It really does. But in the meantime, it’s ok for it to be crap. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.
And if you’re a college senior, I have a few ideas for how to make “Total Crap Time” just “Crap Time.” I have a feeling it’s going to be hard either way, but still, these may help:
- Make a plan for after college as early as possible. I know this is going to be hard for some of you. My college advisor asked me once what my 5-year plan was, and I laughed at her. I’m still not good at long-term planning, and I think that might just be how I’m wired, but the earlier you can make a plan, the better-off you’ll be for the next tip.
- Start investing now in relationships/organizations/activities you’ll want to be involved with after college. It will make your transition into the real world MUCH easier if you’ve already got a toe (or foot or whole leg) in while the rest of you finishes up school. If you’re going to stay in the city where your college is, get involved in non-university things with non-studenty people. If you’re going to move, go ahead and establish contacts, get in touch with Meet-Up group organizers, ask around about the best places to live, get people to keep their ears open for possible roommates for you. Finish strong where you are, and enjoy the present, but also, start moving your life (even if it’s just mentally) out of college and into your future world so that when you get there, you can hit the ground running.
- Seriously consider who you are, completely apart from school. How do you relate to people? How do you express love? What makes you really excited? What makes you really angry? What part do you play in your family/your group of friends/the world? What do you wish existed in the world? What do you wish didn’t exist? What makes you get off the couch or out of bed willingly, eagerly?
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you, 21-23-year-old girl (or guy?). Well, that’s all I have in writing. I also have the aforementioned dinner and liquor, and I also have The Three Amigos, which makes everything better. Come on over.