This was me a year ago…about to graduate from a generic undergrad institution in a generic part of a generic state. I had no idea what I didn’t know, but I was ready to find out.
Now I’m here, in Chicago, just having finished up my first year of grad school and trying to find my footing in new avenues of adulthood, exploration and crafting my best life.
One thing they don’t tell you is that as much as people hate school- they love it too. Being a perpetual student gives you a sense of comfort, guidance, a familiar format to follow and measurable progress. You get grades that rank your performance and a degree upon completion- but the real world is a lot less murky.
There’s no real universal markers for progress, or success. There’s no perimeters of potential failure- it’s all variable and individual. People have made and lost fortunes, gotten married and divorced, gained and lost- all at different rates and at varying levels of intensity.
I never seem to understand when people say that college was the best years of their lives, or it showed them who they “really are.” For me, college showed me nothing- it was a way for me to adhere to rules, meet requirements unchallenged, and to pass quietly through the system. I knew what was expected of me, I followed and I was rewarded accordingly.
I took conventional steps, towards a guaranteed end point: a piece of paper that dubbed me “qualified” in my years of study. Never though, was I, or anyone, promised that it would yield success. It was just a necessary product that I was expected to attain.
Now, though, approaches the true challenge: Life lessons without course titles and required reading, cultivating expertise without declared majors and minors, finding mentorship and leadership without faculty and student peers- in short, where the real learning comes from– where nothing is promised, nothing detailed on a syllabus. The semesters are that of the months and years of your life, the final exam is the day you look back on your life and reflect on whether you passed the test of your best life.
It’s a big, bad, glorious world out there, and it’s all up to us to cut our stars out of the cloth and fly the flag of our purpose.
…and perhaps that’s what’s tripping me up a bit.
When you have your butt parked in a classroom, it’s easy to dream of the world outside- of the great things you’ll do with a degree in hand. We all know our majors in college don’t determine our career paths, but did we never stop to think at how jarring it would be to have absolutely NO guidance on how to format our passions and work?
Having a limited range of choices in which to identity, “Yes, I’m an English Lit major!” gives us an easy pass, a quick (and changeable) way to form our selves. In the real world, if you’re not still working primarily with english literature, you’ve got a problem- and that’s where I’m at. Who the heck are we and what can we do that is truly meaningful in our short lifespans?
What I’ve learned since graduation:
What you might not anticipate though, are the ones who quietly drift from your life simply because you forgot to look in the rearview mirror. Some of these departures will make you truly sad inside since they insist on sitting roadside back in a metaphorical hometown of comfort and familiarity, never understanding you invited them to get in the car and believed they could make the journey too.
So, I’m curious- what have you learned since college? Is there anything you wish you would have learned in school? Do you grade yourself harder than a professor ever did, or do you do better as your own teacher?