1. Worked at a winery.
Because when else was that going to happen in my life? There are so many articles now about quitting your job to be a yogi/Soul Cycle instructor/ice cream scooper, and while I’m sure those are fulfilling in their own right, I think that maybe (in some cases) if people hadn’t rushed into their careers, they might have been more apt to find something that they really wanted to stay in. Of course that isn’t true for everyone, but taking the time to do things I actually loved after college before committing to a full-time job made me not feel as rushed or frantic.
2. Saved money.
Moving to New York City on an entry-level salary is never going to be the greatest financial decision of all time. Sure, it’s certainly not the worst, and it can be done successfully, but I chose to live in my college town after college where I paid about $400 in rent. I wasn’t living the big city dream right away, but at least I was banking money.
3. Took a few really awesome road trips.
I worked three jobs after college (so if you assume people who didn’t go full-time right out of school are lazy, you’re mistaken), but it’s a lot easier to take a random Monday off when you’re working mainly in the service industry. Once you join the office grind (which if you want to, you will eventually, so don’t worry!), it’s a lot harder to spontaneously decide to go upstate for three days. It’s doable, but it requires planning, and if you’re someone who has always been a planner, giving yourself a couple of months to be spontaneous feels amazing.
When I was in college, I did media work for an organization I loved. I went back after I graduated to do nothing remotely connected to media work. I wanted to do what the other volunteers did, just to see what else I actually liked. I volunteered at a hospital (even though it had been a smooth five years since I’d taken a science class), I had one-on-one sit downs with family members of people who were sick, and helped cancer patients find the wig that would make them feel more like themselves. All of my post-college problems felt so insignificant when I was volunteering, because the volunteer work was so much more important than any other worry I had.
5. Learned to hang out by myself.
Living in a college town while all of your friends clear out is a great way to figure out that you can actually have a good time being by yourself, or with just one friend instead of your group of 10 people. When transition takes over our lives, often our instinct is to surround ourselves with people in order to drown out our fears and insecurities. But that’s not a permanent solution, and learning to be on your own, happily, is something you want to learn sooner rather than later.
6. I didn’t settle.
I dated people until I found one I really cared about. I applied to jobs and took the one I really thought I was ready for (about eight months after everyone else landed their “dream job”). I tried (even though it was super hard with everyone pairing off, and moving away, and moving in together, and following their dreams) to take my time and find the right option, instead of picking the first option available to me.
7. Interviewed for a job abroad.
As much as I wanted to the person who was courageous enough to pack up my things and work abroad indefinitely, I learned that it wasn’t the solution for me — at least not at the time. Still, I’m glad I had a chance to try it, and consider it, because that’s a privilege a lot of people don’t get.
8. Wrote just for fun.
Not to make money, or to get published, or to force it to lead me to a job (though all of those would’ve been good ideas, to be honest), but just because I wanted to. If you do want to write (for money or just for fun), writing without professional pressure is a great exercise. Writing before you have an article quota to fill, or people to please, or contributors and freelancers to look out for, or bylines to get allows you to explore your own voice without operating under any constraints.
9. Forced myself to ignore my potential five-year plan and to be open to different options.
In a way, life after college doesn’t really care about what your plan may or may not be. You might not land your dream job, you might land something that is even better for you. You might break up with the person you were supposed to spend the rest of your life with, and realize that it really wasn’t meant to be. Having a plan and a direction is a good thing, but you’re allowed to not have every detail figured out at 22. The year before my last year of college, I thought I had my plan figured out, and six months later I learned that I a lot of things about my initial plan. Shit happens, but you’ve got time to figure out what direction you want to head in — and there’s nothing wrong with making it up as you go along.