Letting Go of “Should”

I feel like a tetherball. My journey through life is carrying me around and around a central point, and the object is to get as close to the center as possible. But on the way, I’m going around in circles, learning and forgetting and re-learning the same lessons over and over. This is one of those lessons.

It comes in a lot of different packages:

  • Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Don’t compare yourself to the version of yourself you wish you were.
  • Don’t compare yourself to the person you used to be.
  • Live in the moment.
  • Don’t beat yourself up over the past.
  • Don’t stress out over the future.
  • Let go of “should.”

They’re all the same lesson. When you focus on what you should be, but aren’t, or on what you shouldn’t do, but do anyway, you miss out on so much potential for good things in life. When I hear other people say, “I should be __________ by now,” or, “I should stop __________,” my first instinct is to say, “Then start already!” or, “Then just stop it!” (respectively). But when I say those “shoulds” myself, my first instinct is not to snap myself out of it, but to wallow in them.

I don’t know if this makes me kinder to myself or a horrible enabler.

Here’s the truth. When you feel a “should” creeping up, or when you hear yourself say it, you have two choices:

  1. Agree with it and take action.
  2. Tell it to eff off because you’re just fine.

Those are your only options if you want to be sane and happy. If it’s something you really believe would be of benefit to you and the world, take steps to make a change. If you find that you’re comparing yourself to others and it’s bringing you down, kick that “should” to the curb. You’re fine.

Sometimes, you have to choose both options. You have to say, “Here’s my action plan. I am at Step Nine, and it is perfectly ok that I’m at Step Nine and not Step Fifty. Step Fifty comes much later. Right now, Step Nine is exactly the right step to be at.”

I have to tell myself that I’m fine a lot. I don’t know if it’s perfectionism or just general female guilt (ladies, you know what I’m talking about), but I very often feel like I should be doing more, I should be better, I should be thinner, I should be more outgoing, I should have more savings, I should be able to do everything just by willing myself to do it, I should have a cleaner home, I should spend more quality time with friends and family, I should eat less sugar, I should clean out my car, I should read my Bible, I should exercise more, I should change out of my jabambas on my days off, I should do a closet purge, I shouldn’t have cut these bangs, I should have cut these bangs years ago…

The thing is that using these “shoulds” to take action is one thing (I really am going to clean out my car this week), but using them to beat yourself up doesn’t help anyone. So the next time you hear yourself say (or think), “I should…,” ask yourself if it’s a change that would improve you and/or the world, and if it’s one you’re ready to work toward. If so, make a plan, and make it happen, and accept every step in the plan as a valuable, necessary, good, productive one. But if it’s not a change you’re ready for, maybe see if you can let that be ok.

Nothing But the Truth

Maybe it’s because we didn’t put an engagement or wedding announcement in the paper, but I feel like I haven’t gotten my invitation to the Secret Married Ladies Club yet. You know, the one where they tell you to lie to all your single friends about how great singleness is and how hard marriage is. Or maybe I just haven’t been married long enough yet to understand.

Well, when the difficult time comes, single friends, I will tell you how hard it is, but both then and now, I will not lie to you. And right now, the truth is this: Marriage is awesome.

I don’t say that to make you feel bad about being single. Singleness is awesome too. Some of you have heard me say recently that if I’d known how amazing being married would be, I would have been a lot more upset about being single. This is not entirely true. “Upset” is the wrong word. I would have looked forward to marriage a lot more, but I wouldn’t have been upset. I really loved being single. When I was single, I didn’t have to juggle two families at the holidays, I could always retreat to my bedroom for alone time, I could sleep until 11:00 on my days off if I wanted, and I could stay up until 2:00 a.m. on the nights before my days off. I never had to ask for anyone else’s opinion or input, and the only mess I had to clean up was my own. I only did my own laundry, my own dishes, and my own shopping. When I was bored, I decided what I wanted to do. I didn’t have to consider what anyone else wanted to do or didn’t want to do. I could spend my money on the things I wanted to buy without having to think about how it would affect “our” budget. I was completely independent, and I loved it.

I loved it. Like, really loved it. I loved spending all my money on trips to Europe and spending lazy weeks off watching multiple TV series in their entirety on Netflix. I loved quiet nights in my apartment reading a good book. I loved having long phone conversations with friends I hadn’t talked to in a while. And I loved being able to choose when to hang out with people and when to be alone.

I loved it, but I don’t miss it.

I don’t miss it because I also love waking up to snuggle with my husband even though I don’t have to get up and go to work. And I love talking and laughing about the day with him before we fall asleep. I love spending all my money on a functional new washer and dryer. I love hanging out with my in-laws. I love bouncing ideas off of each other. I love learning how to work together, how to cooperate (literally, operate with someone else) to create order and sanity in a home of two people prone to clutter. I love learning to function as one while also learning to love each other more deeply for who we are individually. I love growing together while encouraging each other to chase individual dreams.

I know there will be hard times. I know that. And I think this really good time is a sort of training ground, where we are learning to work together in easy times and get lots of practice. That way, when hard times come, we will know how to stand hand-in-hand and face it together.

I wish this were a lesson we learned more in singleness too. Singleness doesn’t mean that you are alone. In fact, most single people I know spend almost as much time with friends as I do with Will. And many of those friendships have the potential to weather the worst of times. You just don’t feel the same kind of commitment to your friends, but why not? Why don’t we commit to our friends anywhere near as fiercely as we do our spouses? I know it won’t be exactly the same, but as it is, it’s not even close.

As single people, we long for the community and connection that we see in marriages, but why has it not occurred to us that we can have deep connection and community without being married? I don’t have any answers or lessons learned on this, so I’m tossing it out to y’all. What do you think?

  • Have you experienced this kind of depth in friendships?
  • Do you think it’s possible for people who aren’t married to be as committed to each other as married couples are?
  • Do you think that’s a realistic and/or healthy kind of friendship?
  • How can we cultivate non-marriage relationships wherein both parties feel loved, supported, protected and connected on a level not entirely like but somewhat comparable to the feelings associated with marriage?

The Deva Cut

Several weeks ago, I wanted to get my hair cut. Curly hair, though, is tricky because when you wash it and then cut it wet, you have no way of predicting what it will do after it dries and curls back up. To get around this problem and save some money, I used to cut it myself back in college. It was extremely short at the time, so basically what I would do was pull a curl from the back around to the front, and if it was long enough to see it, I cut it shorter. I had a hair stylist friend at the time who shouted at me about it, so eventually, I went to a salon. The stylist looked at it dry, and I told her I’d been doing it myself. Her response was, “Well it doesn’t look bad.” I know, right?

Then she washed it, combed it out, saw how uneven it was, and said, “Oh…”

But here’s the thing: If you wear your curly hair curly, nobody ever sees it wet and combed out. If it looks good curly, that’s all that matters. Why do we feel the need to cut all hair types the same way?

Enter the Deva Technique.

I’ve heard it pronounced “deeeva” and “deh-va,” and I don’t know which one is right, and I don’t care. What matters is that it makes sense for curly hair. Here’s how it works (just imagine the tree is my head):

See how he’s just cutting branches all willy-nilly? Yeah, that’s how the Deva cut works. Of course, like any artist, the stylist has a vision in mind for what the hair will look like in the end. The rest is just removing the unnecessary hair to fit the vision. So you go in with your hair styled as usual so they can see how it curls and how each curl lies. Then they get straight to it, cutting it dry so they can see the style take shape as they go. When they’re done with that, they give you the fancy head-massaging wash treatment. After that, I sat under a dryer for a while, and when my hair was mostly dry, she did some touch-ups.

There’s a dude in Raleigh who does this for like a million dollars a pop. It’s not really that much, but I would be just as likely to pay a million dollars as I would be to pay what he charges, so he was immediately out. I found another salon (a cool one in Durham…because that’s where cool things are) that charged less than half of what the fancy guy was asking, so I made an appointment.

I enjoyed the experience and appreciated having my hair taken care of in a way that seemed more fitting than the way it’s normally done (the way straight hair is done). But on the way home, I thought, I just paid her to do to my hair exactly what I used to do to it myself in college. I could be doing this for free. And y’all know how cheap I can be.

Well then, as if to encourage me further, my hair dried the rest of the way and curled up in a real funky manner on the sides of my face. I didn’t like the length it was right there once it was completely dry, so when I got home, I took my own scissors to it and was much happier. See, I said to myself, you can totally do this.

So my verdict on the Deva cut is that it’s good. Curly hair and straight hair are different, and they should be approached differently. But I don’t know if I will pay for it again. I mean, I would have to screw it up ROYALLY before I’d pay someone to do what I can do for free. And now, I have a curly-haired friend who understands and can help me to the back! Bonus!

Conclusion: Expect some exciting hair experiments in 2014, y’all. This is going to be fun.

Good-bye, Claire

After WEEKS of agonizing over it and asking a million people’s opinions about it (and getting a million different answers), I finally filled in the box on the form.

I took it to the Social Security office, and I became Elizabeth Parent McMillian. And just like that, all my anxiety about it went away. It is sad to let go of a name I love, a name I’ve never used, but a name that is special to me because it belonged to my grandmother. But legally or not, I will always be Elizabeth Claire. My name changed, but I didn’t. And while it’s weird right now because it’s new, I know that a year from now, it will just be my normal name, and I won’t think anything of it. And ten years from now, we might have a little Claire to carry the name on (maybe by then, Whitney will be ready for us to have children, and she’ll acknowledge little Claire’s existence – What say you, buddy?).

In the end, I decided that four names would just be too much, so I had to choose which one to let go of and which one to keep. Since everyone knows me as BethParent (yes, all one word run together like that), and most people didn’t even know my middle name, I decided to keep the one I felt was more strongly tied to my identity. I probably could have gone either way and been happy with my choice, but I just felt more comfortable keeping Parent, so that’s what I did.

Now I just have to get used to a new signature. That’s extra weird.

10 Things That DON’T Change When You Get Married

Last month, I told you about 10 things that change when you get married. As a bit of a follow-up to that, here are 10 things thatdon’t change when you get married:

  1. You still have bed-head – Will affectionately refers to mine as “Mozart hair.” And you still don’t care. I think there was a part of me that thought I would worry about my first-thing-in-the-morning appearance when there was someone seeing me first thing in the morning, but make-up or none, glorious 2nd-day hair or Mozart hair, morning breath and all, he still says I’m the most beautiful girl in the world.
  2. You continue in your own individual growth and learning. Just because the “two become one,” that doesn’t mean that you stop being an individual. It just means that you now have a built-in discussion partner for life, who will also be pushed to grow as you tell him what you’re learning, and who will also push you to grow as he tells you what he’s learning.
  3. There are still things you don’t like about yourself. As many times as Will tells me I’m beautiful, there are still things about my body I think he must not have noticed yet. I’ve pointed them out to him, but he doesn’t care. He just doesn’t see me as critically as I see myself. And the reverse is also true. I don’t see him as critically as he sees himself. Being completely accepted by someone else doesn’t automatically make you completely content with yourself. But it does make you completely loved, and that is more than enough.
  4. You still want the same things. I still want to go to Europe on vacation. I still want to buy everything in The Container Store. I still want ALL THE THROW PILLOWS. I still want to sleep for 9 hours a night. I still want to eat chocolate cereal for breakfast. I still want to help immigrants learn English. I still want to tell women that they are valuable, worthy of dignity, completely loved, and absolutely necessary in the world. I still want to dance with somebody (with somebody who loves me).
  5. You work the same job. The only difference is that your boss now has a plan somewhere in the back of her mind for what she will do when you have a baby. (Disclaimer: I have no idea if the boss-baby thing is true. My boss will have to chime in here to clarify.)
  6. Your spouse doesn’t change (not that you’d want him to). This is why it’s important to marry someone you already love and respect completely. And of course, over time, all people change. I just mean that marriage itself doesn’t cause people to change drastically. They are who they are before and after the wedding, so you just have to make sure you know them really well and love them a whole lot before you get married. I suggest being friends for six years first.
  7. You still don’t have all the answers. Your wedding vows don’t automatically endow you with knowledge on how to be married, but hopefully, you’ve been learning how to communicate well and work as a team all through your dating and engagement time, so you just keep doing that.
  8. You have good days and bad days, individually and together. You get tired and cranky, you get stressed out, you get over-peopled if you are an introvert, you get under-peopled if you are an extrovert, you get stuck in traffic, you get sick, you get promotions, you win radio contests, you find $20 in your winter coat from last year, you check off everything on your to-do list and feel like a rock star, you connect really well and feel all gushy and in love, you can’t seem to get it together, you feel disconnected and confused. Being married doesn’t get rid of the feeling of relational disconnection any more than it gets rid of heavy traffic. Before and after the wedding, when you feel that way, you talk about it and work it out.
  9. You don’t stop dating. At least you shouldn’t. My husband still brings me flowers (and I still kill them within a few days). Then he takes me out to dinner and picks up the check, and we sit there holding hands across the table and grossing out the rest of the diners and the waitstaff with our googly eyes. And at the end of the month, when we don’t have the money to go out to eat, we still cook dinner together, then cuddle up on the couch and watch a movie.
  10. You still hate whatever chores you hated before you got married. It’s amazing. You don’t become some kind of super-wife who can magically now clean the toilet without gagging. You cross your fingers and hope that your spouse will do whatever it is that you hate doing, but if they hate it equally, then you make the choice to suck it up and do it (or pay someone else to do it)…just like you did when you were single. I think laundry and toilet-cleaning are the only things Will really hates doing, but I don’t mind either. And taking out the trash is the one thing I really hate doing, but he usually does it, so that works out very well for us.

It should be noted that we’ve only been married for 2.5 months. I know my self-esteem, my desires, my job, my knowledge, and even my husband will change over time. Most things do. But marriage isn’t the cause of the changes; life is. And I will welcome those changes when they come because I hope they mean that I’m growing and changing too.

To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate

This is the question, friends. What do I do with my name now that I am married? I want to keep my whole maiden name and just add my new married last name, but do I hyphenate it or not? If I don’t hyphenate, what becomes of my maiden name? Do I then have two middle names or two last names? Do I get to choose? How does one make such decisions? And most importantly, when we still live in Cary in ten years and I’m a soccer mom, WHICH SWIRLY PINK LETTERS WILL I HAVE MONOGRAMMED ON MY MINIVAN NEXT TO MY STICK-FIGURE FAMILY?!?!

My friend Dre got married a week after I did, and she was chomping at the bit to change her name because her married name is so much easier to deal with than her maiden name (too many confusing superfluous letters). But I’m BethParent. It’s just one of those names. I don’t know when it started, but people seem to like using both my first and last names, and I’ve gotten used to it. Also, it’s easy to explain. I say, “Parent. P-A-R-E-N-T, like your mother or your father.” This never worked for the Wilkesboro Pizza Hut (apparently they refer to their moms and dads as “parrot”), but for most folks, it’s pretty clear.

I recognize that I’m in the middle of a very common identity crisis, and that in three years, no matter what I change it to, I’ll be used to it, but right now it feels like a very big deal, so I bring it to you.

I’d like to hear from women who:

  • hyphenated
  • kept their middle and maiden names as middle names
  • kept their middle and maiden names and added their married name (un-hyphenated) to make two last names
  • dropped their middle (or first) names
  • dropped their maiden names
  • changed their names completely (Princess Consuela Bananahammock, anyone?)

What was this time in your life like? How did you come to your decision? What factored into it for you? How long did it take you to get used to being “someone else”? If you could do it again, would you do anything differently?

Addendum OR Getting a Taste of My Own Medicine

My husband and I are both writers. He writes fiction; I write non-fiction. We would both love to be able to make enough money with our writing to just do that all the time. I mean, who wouldn’t want to work from home in their jabambas, saving money on gas and car maintenance, and saving sanity by not having to drive on I-40 every day? Currently, however, neither of us is makingany money on writing projects, so we both have “real” jobs. To be fair to our “real” jobs, it’s important to note that we both like them. I actually love mine and would probably miss it if I quit entirely, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

My point is this…

After months and months of saying he wanted to finally write his freaking novel already, and after many conversations wherein I told him it would be hard, but he just needed to suck it up and make it happen if that was what he wanted, he is making progress. Since we got back from our honeymoon, the dude has been getting up at 6:30 every morning to write. I don’t know how he does that, but I couldn’t be prouder. Even on mornings when his brain can’t wake up enough to write anything before his writing time is up, he’s still doing more than I am.

So last night, when I was saying I also wanted to do more writing, I don’t know why I was surprised to hear my own advice coming back at me.

  • You just have to make time for it and stick to your schedule. No procrastinating.
  • A little bit at a time is ok. Every little bit counts.
  • So if your book needs to be 60,000 words, you break it up into, say, 20 chapters, and then you just write 2,000-4,000-word chapters.

Friends, I’m here today to tell you the eleventh thing that changes after you get married: Your spouse picks things up from you and uses them. It’s like a mirror. You give advice, and you get it back. You give encouragement, and you get it back. You say a certain word or phrase all the time, and you’ll start hearing it come out of his mouth. This is potentially dangerous, but it’s also potentially amazing, and y’all are smart enough to understand what I mean by that, so I won’t explain it any further. I’m just going to go ahead and count this instance as amazing.

Seriously, What Does Happen to a Dream Deferred?

As many of you know, from the summer of 2004 to the spring of 2012, rarely a day went by that I did not wish I lived in Europe. I pursued this dream down many an avenue, rabbit hole, sidewalk chalk painting and dark alley, and then one day, just like that, I knew my chasing was done. The next few months were pretty hard as I tried to figure out where that left me, and I thought a lot about the famous Langston Hughes poem.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Friends, never in all my BS-ing English lit days had I been able to truly understand this poem. I mean I got it. We all get it. Where do dreams go when you stop dreaming them? What happens to them? But when you’re in that place, that vacuum left in the departure of your deepest desire, you know it’s not the dream drying up – it’s you. You feel like the life is just oozing out of you, like you stink of the death of your dream, like a crust has formed over your heart, like you’re carrying the weight of your life that used to float along on hope. You feel like you just might explode.

I thought about this poem, this topic, a lot, and then very slowly, over the course of a few months, I stopped thinking about it so much. I was challenged by it again later when asked what my dreams for my life were, and at that point, I realized that new ones were starting to build up inside me. I would still love to live in Europe, and I would do it if the right opportunity presented itself, but I’m content just exactly where I am. Maybe for the first time ever.

And now when I look back on last spring (and the 8 years leading up to it), I am thankful – thankful for the dream and the adventures it gave me, thankful for the passion it stirred up within me, thankful for the people it led me across, thankful for the lessons I learned in pursuit of it.

Donald Miller’s latest blog post includes these lines:

There is no guarantee our dreams will come true. But is that the point of dreaming? Must our dreams be realized, or is the call to dream them in the first place? … We must understand the realization of the dream is not so much the gift as the dream itself.

So keep on dreaming, kids. Whether you get there or not, it’s totally worth it. And if you can stop off at my place on the way for a night, I’ll make you some tea, and we’ll choreograph a dance.

This One Goes Out to A.C. (Not Slater)

Dear Quarter-Life Crisis Girl,

You’re 25ish, which means you’ve been out of college just long enough for you to feel like you should have it all figured out, and just not long enough for you to actually have it figured out. Actually, no. That’s not even true. I’m 32, and I’m starting to think no one ever really has it figured out. I think the best we can do is be ok with not having it all figured out and just enjoy it.

Here are some things you should be enjoying right now:

  • Your ass has not yet slid down the backs of your legs.
  • You still get a youth discount at hostels and museums all over Europe. GO TO EUROPE.
  • Your face skin is all taut and bright. Moisturize that mess. (I was a Mary Kay lady fresh out of college – weird, I know – and that was the best lesson I learned, and probably why people still don’t believe I’m over 30. Also I got good genes, but don’t let that minimize the importance of moisturization.)
  • You have a LOT of energy. Run. Play. Frolic. Fly kites. Dance at concerts late into the night on a school night. I can’t think of any more fun things. Just the thought of that last one wore me out.
  • You are fearless. I know you feel a lot of fear right now about the future, about who you are and who you’re becoming, about what you’re supposed to do in life, about what your passions are and how you’re supposed to use them, about what people will think of you if you do something crazy. But the truth is you still feel invincible enough to do the crazy things, and I say do them. Never stop doing them. Take opportunities when they come, and love every minute of it. Run a marathon, go skydiving, backpack Europe by yourself, try to eat a spoonful of cinnamon, do open-mic nights, teach English in Taiwan, participate in a flash mob. If it intrigues you, excites you, makes you feel alive, or scares the bajeebers out of you, do it. And remember the feeling.
  • You have an incredible amount of freedom. This is for those of you who are not married yet. Do you realize how much freedom you have to do…whatever the heck you want? Girl. DO IT. Live in a big city just to say you did. Go to grad school. Take road trips with your friends. Take road trips alone. Send postcards from all the random little towns you stop in for gas or Taco Bell. Drive to the beach just to watch the sunrise. Have sleep-overs. Invite me.
  • Jesus likes you. You can always enjoy this, but I think it’s important to hear when you feel like you’re doing everything in life wrong. God’s not just a cosmic score-keeper marking down all your successes and failures and making you feel guilty about the latter. And he’s not like your mom, who has to like you no matter what. He straight-up, legitimately likes you and thinks you’re awesome and is proud of you.
  • Boys make you feel giddy. Not gonna lie – boys still make me giddy, but married people seem to think this is just a phase I’m still in, so let’s all enjoy the giddiness while we’ve still got it, eh? Crushes are fun (until they’re crushing, but even then, you get to enjoy listening to really horribly sad music, eating mint-chocolate-chip ice cream and watching The Three Amigos with me, sooooo…win-win). I just looked back at my own blog from when I was 25, and I wrote a LOT about boys. And it was fun.
  • There are lots of people to love. And loving them is not always fun, but it’s worth it.
  • You fall in love really easily. Maybe not with people, but with restaurants, music, jobs (that don’t suck), activities, movies, places, ideas, books, catch phrases, oddities, stories, plans, beers, hobbies, you name it. At one point, when I was younger than you and not as wise, I said I didn’t want to throw the L-word around flippantly because I was taking love REALLY seriously and wanted to give it the weight it deserved. Now I think I probably missed out on experiencing some love because I was afraid of calling it that. I was afraid to really enjoy things because I thought I needed to be more serious and grown up.

Don’t do what I did, Quarter-Life Crisis Girl. Love the crap out of life.

I sometimes look back on my time in New York and think about how much fun it was, how I was always having adventures and seeing crazy things, but really, my life wasn’t that much different. I worked, I went to school, I went to the movies, I hung out with friends in my living room. It wasn’t all that exciting. I was just living there with a greater sense of wonder and expectancy. I was open to adventure, so I had adventure. I was captivated by love, so I felt it a lot. I was curious about people, so I was amused more often than I was annoyed.

I think these are things we can cultivate and continue throughout our lives. Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m a complete lunatic, maybe it will all come crashing down around me. I don’t know, but I’m having fun. Grab a sparkler and join me!

Life After College

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.

Excitement

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.

Worry

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.

Graduation!!

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.

*   *   *   *   *

SO.

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.