When I graduated from college four years ago, I felt a little bit lost. Okay, more than a little bit. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in a holding pattern, ready for someone to invite me into the illusive adulthood club that I was both desperate and not at all interested in joining. I wanted to get started with whatever came next, but I couldn’t figure out what that was, or what steps to take. Thanks to some great friends and a lot of grace, I fumbled my way through those first couple months and years.
The girl who graduated from Indiana University in the spring of 2013 isn’t around anymore, but if I could, I’d give her some advice. First I’d lift her chin, look her in the eyes, wipe her tears and tell her that it was going to get better. Not just okay, but life would be good, again. I’d also tell her that she would feel like herself again. I’d tell her to be so patient with her heart, and to lean into the broken and uncertain because she’d meet Jesus there over and over again. This would probably make her cry because she would desperately want to believe me, but she was also guarded and uncertain.
After I told her that I was proud of her, I’d give her some practical ideas for the next couple of years of her life. Four years later, that twenty-two year old is now twenty-six; she’s got different hopes and fears. While those four years have been full of hard, they’ve also been full of growth. That twenty-six year old doesn’t have it figured out, but she does have some ideas that helped her step into adulthood. Since I can’t share them with my twenty-two year old self, I’ll share them with you instead.
Join a local church and develop multi-generational friendships. I wish I had a secret about how to find a local church, but all I can say is, “Resist the urge to find a perfect church.” Preaching matters, so does theology, and worship is important, too. But you wouldn’t find a perfect church; instead find a good fit; find someplace you can belong. Once you decide on a church, find ways to get involved – serve in children’s ministry, volunteer as a babysitter, join a small group.
Buy a book shelf and learn to love to read. I know, I know, post-college is the first time that you’re not forced to read. But reading is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to learn new things and experience the world beyond yourself. Unless you’re headed back to graduate school immediately, embracing reading can give you the opportunity to continue learning and exploring.
Learn to meal plan and grocery shop. Once you have a couple go-to meals, you’ll find yourself eating out less and experimenting more in the kitchen. Instead of going out to dinner with friends, invite them into your home and cook for them. Your wallet and your relationships will thank you. If you’re eating healthier, you may also find that you want to work-out more frequently – good for you! I’m a BIG fan of the Y, most cities have them and their costs are pretty low, but there are many other gym options including activities that are more like hobbies – crossfit, Orange Theory, Purre Barre and others.
Create a budget and start saving. There are hundreds or even thousands of books and philosophies and blogs about creating a budget. Pin one budget related thing on Pinterest and watch what happens. But the best place to start is by tracking your spending. Once you’ve done that, look back and reflect on where your money is going. Are there patterns? Do you feel like your budget is reflective of your priorities? If not, you can fix it. I promise you. Start saving right away. Have a portion of each payment (even if it’s $50) automatically transferred to your savings account on pay day. Take advantage of any 401K matching that your company does. If creating a budget is overwhelming to you, reach out to one of the elders or pastors at your church or even one of your parents. If they’re not able to sit down and help you, they’ll be able to direct you to someone who can. If you haven’t realized it by now, the habits you develop in your 20’s will carry on for the rest of your life. Make good financial decisions now and you’ll see the benefits later.
Collect experiences, not stuff. Having a paycheck from working a full-time job is a dangerous thing, if you’re not careful. You’ll be able to justify all the spending in all the world. “I work hard.” “I deserve this.” “I need this.” But here’s a secret: stuff isn’t going to make you happy. Instead of buying another sweater or a fifth pair of flip flops, make a bucket list and start saving towards experiences. A couple of years down the road, you’ll be way more excited about the places you traveled and the memories you’ve made than having another dress that you don’t even wear anymore.
Prioritize the person you want to be instead of focusing on finding who you want to marry. There are many ways to do this, but one easy way to make a list of adjectives you want to be true of you and identify what needs to change. Know your strengths, weaknesses and what breaks your heart, and engage in these things. You may get married in your early 20’s, but you may not. Most of that is actually out of your control, and that’s okay. Use your singleness and this post-graduate season to invest in yourself. Knowing yourself and the gifts you bring to the table will set you up for long-term success.
If you’re a recent college graduate or a 20-something who is floundering, hear me when I say, “You’re not the only one. I promise.” Not only does it get better, it gets good, really, really good. Lean in, friend. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t wish away the hard because it’s going to shape you into a new you, a you that you’ll end up really liking.