I wasn’t prepared for life after college.
I knew it was going to be difficult, but I thought I was ready for a challenge. I moved through the motions quickly and seamlessly: got my diploma, took a job in New York City, packed everything and moved away from home for the first time.
For the first few months, it felt great to walk around my apartment and see the bills on the table knowing that I, somehow, was affording this all on my own. It was freeing to walk into my job in the city every morning and run through my neighborhood each night, thinking of how I was beginning this new chapter of life.
I envisioned life after college filled with late nights, laughing with friends over cocktails, making memories, climbing ladders at work and feeling more settled in who I am. There was definitely some of that.
The transition from young adulthood to just plain adulthood is a tough one, though. Post-college life is simultaneously a fun new beginning and a scary wake-up call for a few years as friendships, proximity to family and life in general are all changing. If I could give my 20-year-old self some advice for getting through it all, this is what I would say:
1. Be patient with yourself.
From the moment I walked across the stage to accept my high school diploma, it seemed like everyone was telling me I needed to think about my future, as if having a perfectly designed plan would have anything to do with how things actually panned out (spoiler alert: It didn’t). My most memorable moments so far have been the result of curveballs I never saw coming.
Especially in a big city like NYC, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking that in order to fit in, you have to join the race. But life doesn’t move at the same pace for everyone. Amidst all of the noise and hustle of a city that never sleeps, the best way I know to stand out is to continue to be myself and strive for what I want, not what everyone else wants for me.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
When I was a kid, I made a bucket list of things I want to do when I grow up. It makes me laugh reading through it now, because the things I wrote on it back then were so simple; things like live in New York City, travel to Europe and become a writer. At 12 years old, they seemed incredibly unattainable.
But as I grew up, I noticed that the phrase “eventually, I want to do this” became like a safety net convincing me my old dreams were still there, but they could wait. I think once you realize how attainable some things are as an adult, that’s when fear creeps in. There’s comfort in knowing at 12 years old, maybe your dreams aren’t a reality right now. One day, you realize your goals could actually happen. So the word “eventually” slowly enters your vocabulary to maintain the distance you had from your dreams as a preteen.
I had to learn that if you know it’s the right thing, you should chase it. Sometimes you’ll fail, and that’s okay. But no matter what, you’ll be glad you didn’t give in to fear. Sometimes, you’ll even get to replace the phrase “eventually, I want to do this” with “currently, I’m doing this.” And that is the best feeling in the world.
3. Ditch social media for a while if you need to.
I love social media. As such an integral part of our daily lives, online interactions can feel more personal than they are. You can feel like you’re part of the lives of people you haven’t spoken to in years. You can see photos of your old classmate’s third cousin’s best friend’s wedding. You can stalk your neighbor’s dog on Instagram. Although this means you can feel closer to all of the good, even when you’re physically miles away, it can also be harder to separate yourself from the bad. For that, the best thing to do is unplug for a while.
4. Explore within your own city.
One of my favorite places to go for a long run if I have the time is Hudson River Park in Manhattan. There’s an area where the road curves around a corner, and if you get there at just the right time, you can catch some gorgeous sunsets over the Hudson River with Lady Liberty in the corner. I can never decide what I love more: seeing the sunset, or seeing people’s faces as they round the corner and see the sunset. You can watch their expression soften slightly. Or they’ll be so captivated that they crane their neck the whole time. Or they’ll even feel moved to stop and take a picture. Sometimes, they just slightly smirk as they walk by. That’s my favorite reaction, as if they’re saying, “Yeah, New York. I don’t have to tell you. You know how great you are.”
I can understand when people talk about how New York City makes them feel lonely and disconnected. It’s a huge city of nearly nine million people, and if you can get them to look up from their phones while walking down the sidewalk, they’re still not looking at you. It almost feels like they’re looking through you. For people to have a moment where they stop for a second to appreciate something beautiful is rare, and to get to watch them have that moment makes you feel less alone and more connected.
It reminds you that while NYC is a city full of nine million people, they’re humans just like you and me. In fact, they’re its heart and soul. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of concrete. There are reminders just like this of what makes your city so great everywhere you turn if you allow yourself to stop for a second and appreciate them.
5. Move away from your hometown for a while.
I grew up in the Midwest, and I noticed that each time I returned after moving away, it slowly started to feel more like the place where I grew up but less like my current home. It was a transition that needed to happen so I could let go of the past and feel more settled in the present, but accepting that change was difficult at first.
For me, physically moving away from my hometown was an important thing. But it’s not that way for everyone. Some people love where they’ve grown up and want to put down roots rather than uproot and leave. Beyond actually living in a new place, I’ve learned it’s more important to “move away from your hometown” by expanding your worldview and challenging, deepening and exploring the thinking, beliefs and culture that surrounded you as you grew up. What’s so important about growing up is actually growing and evolving so you can understand and relate better to everything around you.
There are lots of ways to do that. Actually moving away is just one of them. Traveling as much as you can is another. Or you can simply talk to, become friends and hang out with people who are different from you, learn about the world outside of your own and do things that challenge you often. Everything became easier for me once I started to do all of this and realized home doesn’t have to mean a specific place. And with so many people I love in different places, no matter which direction I’m headed, it can always feel like I’m going home.
6. Open up to your friends.
Post-college life, especially after growing up in a small town, is usually the first time you’re not walking side-by-side through many of the same milestones as your friends. It also means you’re not 15 minutes down the street from each other anymore, ready to hang out any minute. When you’re busier, live further away and get to see each other less frequently, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of only catching up on the good stuff.
But setting aside time to open up to my friends about both the good things and the difficult things has not only brought us closer, but reminded me that friendship is an important source of support that I never want to take for granted. Even though my friends and I don’t get to see each other every day anymore, our friendship has only gotten better and deeper through lots of years and lots of miles in between.
7. Remember you’re only human.
In fact, we all are. And so much more alike than we are different. This should take a lot of the pressure off, because it means no one is perfect. And you don’t have to be, either. I think sometimes we make life too complicated and overthink and stress ourselves out, when really, it’s all about those simple moments where you look in the mirror and say to yourself, or talk to your friends and family and hear them say, “I love you. I’m with you. You’ve got this.”