You are younger than you can even comprehend. Your life is nowhere close to being over, because your life hasn’t even started yet. For the past four years, you’ve been living in Disney World, except in this version everybody was drunk. You didn’t have a lot of responsibilities, your path was pretty much figured out for you, and your main job was to learn something new every day without getting arrested for underage drinking.
It’s okay that you lived outside of reality for the last four years. It’s an opportunity that not everyone gets, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to experience it, you should. Hopefully you spent your college days being curious and excited and open-minded and experimental and earnest and thirsty to understand the world. You sat on blankets in the grass to study for tests and you drank beer on a porch at two in the afternoon on a Monday and you became best friends with someone you wouldn’t have even hung out with in high school.
You traveled the world and you started papers at midnight because you spent the day hanging out with your friends and you found clubs where other people had the same weird interests that you did. You were growing up, and learning how to live on your own, without ever being alone. You were taking risks while people cheered you on from all sides. You were exploring, while your comfort zone remained safely nearby.
You feel like you peaked. You did, in a way. You had the most fun you could possibly have, and experienced life in the best way you possibly could, while getting to keep most of the pain and the difficulty of being an adult at bay for the moment. But now it’s time for your life to actually begin and that’s, understandably, terrifying to you.
There’s no need to ignore the truth. It is going to be hard. It’s going to be an adjustment. You’re going to be sad, especially if you truly felt like the school you picked was one of the best decisions you ever made. You’re not going to be surrounded on all sides by other young, bright twenty-somethings. It will not be as easy to make friends. You might even feel like you’re going through a breakup – one that was thrown at you when you weren’t ready, one that broke your heart and made you feel like you don’t know exactly who you are anymore.
Entering the real world is going to be all of those things – intimidating, overwhelming, at times lonely. But it’s also going to introduce you to a part of yourself that you hadn’t ever known before. You’re going to understand, like you never had in college, exactly how much you’re capable of. You’re going to see that sometimes, experiencing the pain and the struggle that comes with adulthood makes the happy parts all the more joyful and beautiful.
You will notice that some of the things that mattered so much to you in college matter a lot less when you start your adult life. You will not be as overwhelmingly concerned with your reputation or your appearance or your overall image, because the small and suffocating bubble you once lived in has now expanded to include a much larger part of the world. Everyone you now care about is all over the place – all over the world – because the small pocket that your friends and acquaintances once lived in is no longer real. Your physical school is there, but your experience that occurred within it no longer exists outside of your own mind.
You will still care about things that are silly, like the way you look and the way people think about you. But adulthood also gives you an amount of space that you hadn’t previously had. You can try new things without having to explain yourself to every single person around you. You can create a relationship with yourself that you hadn’t previously had time or room to develop – you will learn how to be alone without feeling lonely, how to spend your evening hours without six or seven other roommates to keep you company, how to figure out exactly what it is that is going to bring you fulfillment outside of work or love.
You will become invisible in the most freeing way possible. You will do things now because you want to or because you know it will be good for you; you are no longer doing things because that’s “the next step.” There are no more steps. Yes, there will be engagements and babies and moving and job promotions and other things, but there’s no timeline on that. You will feel the pressure to do many of these things, no doubt. But it’s going to be a different experience and a different situation for every single person, unlike the common timeline that many people experienced of starting college at eighteen and finishing at twenty-one or twenty-two.
Now, everyone is going to go off in different directions. One of your classmates might get pregnant at twenty-three and another may end up taking a job that sends them to Europe for the next five years. One of your friends might meet someone and get engaged within the year, and someone else you know may have spent four years as a pre-med major, only to decide, after college, that music is their true calling.
Everything is different now. Everything is random and everybody will have a path that zigzags in a direction far away from yours. Everything is now going to revolve around the direction in which you want your life to go, instead of you trying to work around the standard series of events that society had laid out for you. You will have obstacles and horribly difficult periods of time and things that don’t happen the way that you want them to. But you will still be in control. You will be the one who decides what’s too important to never give up on, and what ultimately doesn’t really matter to you in the end.
You are becoming you, in a way that is even deeper and more solid and more complicated than the you that you discovered in college. Things will not be perfect anymore. Things will not be easy. Things will sit around until you make them happen. You will experience more self-doubt and struggle and uncertainty than you did in college. But that’s okay. Because that means you’re going to truly start breathing.