9 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Graduated College


1. How to negotiate work contracts

I graduated college with a journalism degree and entered the big bad world clueless about how to negotiate, hell even read, a news contract. In news, contracts are standard, everyone gets one (Can’t have everyone’s favorite anchor just up and quitting). But between not truly understanding what a “noncompete clause” is and not feeling like I truly had a leg to stand on, I signed the first contract that was slid my way (yes like in a conference room all secretive grown up style). So my advice, that I learned the hard way… befriend a lawyer. Have them look at your contract and explain it to you FOR FREE. Ask for more money. THIS IS EXPECTED. They will not resend their offer just because you ask for more money. They will simply say no or yes, or most likely meet you in the middle. There’s nothing like hating your coworkers because they do the same work, but get paid more because they negotiated their pay. 

2. What the f*** is a pilot light?

Right out of college I took a job 4 hours away from where I went to school. It meant moving out of my college house into the world’s smallest, and most expensive studio apartment—in the middle of winter. It was plenty big for my dog and me, but whenever it stormed or was really windy, my hot water would cut off. I called maintenance, and they seemed to always be busy. They simply, and casually (as if I should know) said, “it’s probably just your pilot light.” My what? Out of fear of sounding dumb, I said “ohhh okay thanks.” I hung up, googled it, came to the conclusion it was something to do with my hot water heater, and then proceeded to boil water so I could wash my hair without freezing. So here’s the skinny: a pilot light is the flame that heats your hot water tank. Sometimes (this happened way more than it should to me), weather can knock the flame out. It just has to be relit with a lighter. While this may seem silly, and you’ve probably just stopped reading because you know what a pilot light is, my point is to just ask for help. Household appliances, bills, moving, decorating, using tools—there’s some guy, somewhere dying to help you. Let him (thanks Dad).

3. Sometimes taking a break is a good thing.

I always thought taking a break was quitting. Catching your breath while running a marathon—quitter. “Taking time” apart from your significant other—quitter. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that life is anything but black and white, and the way we define our own gray areas is up to us. For me, taking a breather before I started a new job (after my first one was horrible) was exactly what I needed. I could recharge and refocus my priorities. Taking a six-month break from the man I knew I wanted to marry because I felt I had loss sight of myself after graduation, prepared us both to serve and love each other better. So do it, take the break dude.

4. Craft beer makes you drunker, faster.

Nuff said.

5. Soul mates are not always the people you marry.

I have this great guy friend, and for eight years, he’s been my back up husband (It’s okay for me to say that because I was his too.) We couldn’t understand this judge-free love we had for each other, yet we didn’t want to hold hands when we went to the mall. We came to the conclusion that we were each other’s soul mates. But knew we’d never be “in love.” **Stay with me** This is the best way I know how to explain it: He’s my person. And while we disagree on fundamental things that would destroy a romantic relationship, or even a friendship, we don’t blink or argue, trying to convince the other they’re wrong. We’re both too passionate and too deeply analytical to share the same space for too long, but when we take breathers, resetting and realigning the things that make us, us, we always return, usually with more respect than before. Looking to impress each other is never on our minds. Because no amount of bad could make us leave, and no amount of good could make us more than what we are. Static and consistent are words this life offers less than we’d really like, but we are. He’s someone who recognizes every bit of me without evaluating how it works in his life. As I know it, soul mates of pieces of different puzzles that, for moments in time, fit together, while never expecting what the final image will be. And that’s all I have to say about that. 

6. How/why to build credit.

Long story short: I took a girls weekend to Tennessee. Some splendid local crashed into the front of our car, totaling it. We were stranded in BFE for four days (BFE was a cabin with wifi) without a car BECAUSE WE DIDN’T HAVE CREDIT CARDS, OR ANY CREDIT. (You can’t rent a car without a credit card) Also, applying to an apartment/house/condo/treehouse is difficult when you have no credit, so prepare to ask mommy and daddy to co-sign. My advice: get a credit card. Put one big thing on it, and pay it off the first or second month. The credit card is not for trips to McDonalds or impulse shopping sprees. In fact, don’t even carry it in your wallet when you go to the mall.

7. How to stand up for myself

I’m a people-pleaser. I’m sure my family would disagree, but when it comes to professional relationships or newer friends, I am a total pushover. I hate conflict and avoid it like the plague. But I realized that being a yes man meant I worked really late hours, on the weekends, with no comp time. Learn how to stand up for yourself in a way that says “I’m willing to help you, but I respect myself and so should you.” Saying “no” because you have previous plans is not selfish, it’s honest. Saying “no” because you feel uncomfortable or unprepared to complete the task is not showing weakness, it’s being responsible. Know your limits in all areas of your life: professionally, with friends, with family, with men and with roommates. Don’t do the dishes every single day because you’re afraid to ask your roommate to pitch in. BUT when you do ask, speak kindly and honestly. Respect for yourself never has to equal disrespect for someone else.


Okay. Car batteries die. Washing machines leak. Dog’s get flees. You sit on your glasses. Phone screens crack. Life happens. My first year out of college I moved 3 times, had to replace three out of four tires on my car, buy a new car battery, buy a washer and a dryer, and then buy another washer when that one broke. I had to buy a new screen for my iphone, and two new batteries for it. I wasn’t prepared for any of these things. So when my friends were going out to dinner or downtown, I was on the couch staring at a cracked screen. Save a percentage of every paycheck. That way when unforeseen accidents happen, you’re ready. There’s something way less cute about calling your parents and asking for money once you get that diploma.

9. The best years of your life are not behind you.

Was college amazing? Independent choices on a dependent bank account? That’s what I’m talking about. Yes, for me, the 3 ½ years I spent at the University of South Carolina (I stupidly graduated early to save money, which actually ended up being smart), were some of the best memories I’ll ever have. In fact, I moved back and work at the university because I love it here so much. BUT I spent a big chunk of my first year out of college, wishing I was still in college. I’m not going to lie to you, the first year after graduation was the hardest experience of my entire life (I’m pretty lucky though). But now, on year two, things are looking up. Guess what, I go to happy hour when I get off work and while I’m still frequenting college/cheap bars, I’m not worried about the big midterm I have the next day. When I get home at night, I watch TV without feeling guilty that I bailed on my group project. I’m always learning, but about things I like, not because my advisor said I needed it to graduate. I got six tattoos this year and didn’t flinch that my parents would flip their lids because it was with MY money. The only person I truly have to answer to is my alarm clock. Yes, bills are annoying and dressing like a grown up without looking like you’re playing dress up is difficult, but the freedom and sense of pride that comes with a paycheck every two weeks and a roof over your head that YOU provided for yourself, that’s truly what you’ve been working for those four years. Watching friends get married and become parents, decorate homes and get promotions, that’s the good stuff. Falling in love and building a life with someone are just the tip of the wonderful things adulting brings. Trust me, the best years of your life are just starting. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Storyteller. Beer lover. Mountain seeker. Yoga bender. Dog mama.

More From Thought Catalog