It’s been four years since you left that place and four years since the beginning of the rest of your life. Gone are the days where school can be your safe-place, knowing that each day forward would be a scheduled repeat of the ones past. The moment you stepped across that stage, your life changed forever. At the time, it was easy to see everything that was ending around you but trust me when I tell you, you had no idea how much was just starting to begin.
When we leave college, we expect our lives to change, but I truly don’t think we can ever prepare ourselves for how drastic of a change this will be. It is not like one day you wake up a college student and the next you are an adult with a briefcase, a significant other, and a sense of purpose in your life; no it is more like you go to bed one night realizing that the life you have come to know and love for the past four years will be gone in just a few hours, and there is nothing you can do to stop the sun from rising and beginning the next chapter of your life. You will spend nights tossing and turning, wondering when the life you always dreamed of will begin. It is applying for more jobs than you can even keep track of and learning how to keep moving forward when you don’t even hear back from one. You will start to learn that the pretty little picture you painted for yourself and your future is not as pretty as you assumed it would be. The real world is messy, and there is honestly nothing that anyone can do to prepare you for all of the obstacles and bad days you will encounter. Just know that when you come across these difficult times, there is always more to life than it seems in those moments. There are beautiful times waiting for you beyond the difficult ones, you just have to learn how to see them.
It can become difficult not to feel like a failure when your life is not what you had always hoped it would be. We do a really great job of encouraging everyone around us to pursue their dreams, but what I think the world often fails at is telling people how to recover when things don’t go as planned. Maybe four years ago you thought you would have it all by now; you assumed that by age 25 you would have made it. But now you are here at age 26, and you are starting to wonder if you ever even knew what it was that you were striving towards in the first place. We are told to dream big and that the sky is the limit; we are told that if you work hard enough, you will get exactly what you want. What no one tells you is that with big dreams can often come a big price and that sometimes hard work alone is not enough to get you to where you want to be. Sometimes reality can become a very dark place, and no one ever really teaches you how to get out of that place. All we learn is that if you keep plugging in all the necessary steps to achieve a perfect, well-balanced life that one day you will have it all. But life is not that simple of an equation.
You never imagine the hardships you will encounter when you are dreaming up your big plans for your life. I’m not saying we all need to spend more time focusing on the negativity surrounding us, but what we all do need to understand is that everything will not always play out as simply as we wish for. There will be health problems, financial hardships, heartbreak, and so much more than you could ever even try to plan for. Four years in college can seem like an eternity, but these four years out of college have a way of making you feel like time is simultaneously flying by and slowing down all at once. We cannot stop time from passing, and we cannot stop our lives from changing. One of the most important lessons you will ever learn in life is to learn to accept that sometimes things do not go as planned and that is okay. You are never a failure because your plan did not work out. Your plan didn’t work out because it turned out not to be the right plan for you. Maybe it doesn’t seem that way now and maybe it won’t seem that way for another 10 years, but there will be a time down the road when suddenly everything makes sense. You will finally understand why things didn’t work out the way you had always hoped, and you will be so grateful that they didn’t. I really do believe that everything happens for a reason and that sometimes it just takes a while for us to understand that reason. Please do not ever stop looking for your reason why; everything has a purpose in life and that includes you.
You might have felt like you had a clear vision of what was ending and what was beginning the day you left your university for good, but it has taken you all of these years to fully grasp all it was that you truly left behind. The day of your graduation was more than just leaving behind the place you called home for four years. You left behind toxic relationships and toxic thoughts that you never deserved. You left behind the mentality that told you that you couldn’t do any better than all you had at that moment. You have changed so much in these four years, and I know that sometimes it seems like nothing has changed because you haven’t been able to cross off any of the items on your metaphorical “to-do list,” but if you look within yourself, you can see that the biggest, most important change has already taken place. Every day you choose to make better decisions for yourself and for your mental health, you take a step forward and become one step closer to being exactly who it is you are supposed to be.
I think we need to stop measuring success in tangible items, and we need to start recognizing the deeply difficult work we all put in each and every day just to make it through another day. A fancy car or big paycheck still won’t make you happy if you aren’t happy with yourself. The real dream should be to live a life you are happy with and proud of, whatever that means to you. We should not feel shame for changing our paths once, twice, or a hundred times, as long as we are doing what it takes to make ourselves happy and healthy. After all, what sense does it make to build yourself the “perfect” life if you are not even able to enjoy it? We should all strive to be more present in our own lives and a big part of that is learning to accept that sometimes our current situation is less than ideal but that does not mean we cannot find some good in it. You can find good almost everywhere, as long as you are willing to look for it.
I know you are not where you always thought you would be at this point, but trust in the fact that you are exactly where you are meant to be right now. Maybe you can’t see it now, but one day, you will stop and see that everything has played out exactly as it should, even if it is never what you thought you wanted. You will learn that what we want is not always what we need.
I hope you can become more willing to give yourself what you need, not what you feel like you should want. Life is not a competition; you are here for you, and as long as you are making yourself happy, others’ opinions of where you are in your life do not matter.
These past four years have changed you and that is okay. If you open yourself up to change, you will see so many more possibilities unfold before you than you ever could have imagined. You just have to learn how to look for them.