What I’ve Learned In The First 3 Years After College

Adrian Ruiz
Adrian Ruiz

I’ve yet to experience most of my 20s, and truthfully, I couldn’t be any more excited. The few years since I graduated from college has been surreal, filled with so many lessons, mistakes, and foolish decisions, that for the most part, have turned me into a much better person. The early nuggets of wisdom are still in the early stages of what seems to be a hockey stick trend compounded over time. Seemingly, inconsequential, your 20s are hugely formative and are a time when most people begin to develop a life and an identity.

22

If you’re like most recent college graduates, you have 1 of 3 things lined up:

A) A job offer and you will most likely take it because it pays well enough and, let’s face it, that’s really the only thing that matters right now because you’re broke.

B) A girlfriend/boyfriend and you are hoping to take things steady after college. I know it’s tough because so much emotional equity is suddenly put on the spotlight as a dilemma. Do you try to stick it out, or do you go your separate ways? I suffered through this phase, and it stung. If there’s one thing I can say about this matter, deal with it like a mature adult.

C) You’re probably one of those college kids who just did not care at all. Other senior classifications may invariably be ancillary. If you fall into the third category, that is, just not giving a damn at all, then you my friend, had the time of your life in college, but now, your time is almost up.

Regardless of where you fall into the picture, what’s important is not the technicalities, but something more abstract — the painstaking process of personal growth. Habits are doubly more important than goals and the acceptance of a difficult reality becomes ominous. Take this time to compose yourself, as in just a matter of weeks (or months), the single thing that brought order to your life (college) along with all the lessons, classes, parties, and organizations, will abruptly cease to exist. Don’t worry, it’s fine.

And although it’s a shock at first, you need to learn how to transition seamlessly to the next stage. You’re not going to have much money, unless you somehow managed to stock some cash in order to make room for that post-college transition. If this is you, well done. Few people are diligent enough to prepare for what’s ahead after graduation. This is the time to look for a job — a job that makes you valuable at 22. Don’t necessarily be tempted to go for that sales job because contrary to what recruiters will tell you, that experience won’t hold enough water. If any, it will just begin paving the way for a sales career and at this point, I’m sure you have other dreams and aspirations than that alone. The point I’m trying to make is to make a smart and calculated decision on your job prospects. Look long and hard if you have to, but this decision can be, to a great extent, significant and long-lasting.

And there you are, college degree in one hand, and a whole world to conquer in the horizon. Aim to make yourself valuable. Reach for something that you have some interest in, even if you’re not sure, because chances are, you don’t know what you want to do yet so it helps to do a little probing in the things that interest you. Take this time to evaluate and choose something that has some resemblance in your life then take it from there. Money should be inconsequential; at 22, you’re capable of eating peanuts and sleeping in cat-pissed cots day-in and day-out so do it not for the money but for the quality it brings to you.

Sometimes, all you need to do is pull the trigger on something you’re unsure about. Don’t be afraid to do that, if that’s what it boils down to. After all, if there’s a time to do it, this is it. I know that’s easier said than done, but if you follow the things that will affect you in the long run, there’s greater freedom and virtue in that pursuit. The money is the easiest part, no joke.

23

So by now, you hopefully, have already worked a year. That job, whatever it is, and how great it was, will be a reminder to the kind of world you just entered. This is when feelings of youthful carelessness and jubilance start to emerge, also known as a quarter-life crisis.

Thoughts of travel, will probably be first on the list and that’s perhaps going to remain just a thought or a reality. Few people will act because it’s risky, unconventional, and for some, wasteful, or so they think. For the brave few who do, and even the fewer who do so solo, I salute you, because despite the enormous amount of anxiety in the decision process, there’s a commensurate amount of unforgettable memories and experiences. Yes, you are going to have the itch to travel, to question your decisions about your life, along with a nonstop, nagging reflection on passions and sense of self-worth. Do it now because not only is travel viscerally fun, but I think it is best enjoyed when young, foolish, and broke.

There will be plenty of opportunities to learn and grow. During the few weeks or months that you are gone, you will learn exponentially and it will change your for the better. Travel freely, explore, learn, and grow. We all know this is the right time — adventure is rampant, decisions are rapid, and emotions are incessant. Pique your curiosity with a dose of wanderlust and I promise you, it will pay off in the future. Maybe travel isn’t for you, and maybe you’re dead set on your ambitions with laser-like focus; should that be the case, I applaud you because you’ve found something valuable. If work consumes you and you are happy to say that, there is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact it’s highly commendable. Keep at it but occasionally, introspection never hurts, especially at such a young age when you’re still in the early stages of growth.

24

And then there was 24. I think I’ve emerged more mature and autonomous — able to think for myself and make decisions on my own terms with full responsibility for any outcome. The years that have passed were amazing and even though I’m still doing a lot of travels at 24, this is the time to slowly settle for a craft and pursue excellence…because stopping abruptly is like pulling the plug. Better to do it gradually; that way, the wake of the experience lingers subtly, instead of unrelenting, immediate, mercurial flashes of memories. The first job you got after graduation has significantly made you more marketable. And if you’re smart, the traveling you’ve done could also be used to further increase your stock.

Approaching 24, you’ll start thinking about a life with a little bit more order than just randomly sleeping on couches wherever and whenever. This doesn’t mean you have to stop the adventure. The music doesn’t have to stop playing just because you’re now settled in. After all the thinking you’ve done, you have, by now, a few places that you are aching to work for or at least associate with. Pursue that with fiery ambition. Get a place, build a nest, and begin a life you can call your own. That’s the point, to make it your own, because at this point, you should start developing the identity that will stay the same for years. Think of it as a reputation — it is what makes you, you, and it takes years to build. Don’t forget, it also takes seconds to destroy.

One thing I’ve truly missed, after having traveled so much is the comfort of having friends to rely on regardless of time. It becomes more difficult to find true friends after college and you’ll start to miss that tremendously because you realize that friendships are essential to a healthy life. Social capital is just as important as human capital. Your success is as dependent on the people who support you emotionally as the skills and work you’re capable of doing.

While 23 was the time to reflect and get away from the noise that surrounded your life, 24 is the time to make moves, serious ones. At this point, you can’t introduce yourself with “I just graduated from college” anymore — you’re two years out, which means much is expected of you. Gradually, this could be an opportunity to start fresh or pursue what it was that got you hooked from the very beginning.

At some point, things are going to change again, but for now, this is the stage you’re in, so make it count. Time is on your side, but realize that it is limited, so spend it wisely. Hopefully, the past few years have taught you a lot. It made a significant impact in my life, and for now until 25, I can say that I’m dedicated to excellence and what I hope to be more adventures along the way. Whatever it is that you reach for, make it personal and make it unique. Life should only get sweeter. TC mark

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