Dear new college graduate: it’s going to be okay.

Dear new college graduate,

Congratulations on finally getting that degree!! All the countless hours of work and many late nights over the past four (or five) years have finally paid off. Take a deep breath. You’re DONE.

I know you are excited about what comes next for you. You’re probably feeling nervous, maybe even a bit clueless about what comes next. That is totally normal. Hopefully you’ve had some time in between writing papers, finishing internships, and wrapping up projects to think about where in the job field you want to begin your career search.

Wherever you are on the spectrum of college graduation emotions, I want to virtually take a seat next to you and talk with you as a friend for a moment. I may only be a year ahead of you in the post-college world, but I desperately want you to hear something I wish I had been told a year ago as I stood where you are.

You ready?

It’s okay if life after college doesn’t turn out quite like you expected it to.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, you probably have some kind of expectations for yourself of what your life should look like after college, what kind of job you should get, and how long it will take you to secure a position in your chosen field. There are also a lot of expectations other people place on college grads, too, and you may or may not be feeling the pressure of those added expectations.

The plans you have for yourself as you venture out into the “real” world might go off without a hitch. Everything might fall into place just as you, your family, and your professors expected them to. If that is you, I am thrilled for you!

But if you wake up a month, a few months, six months, a year down the road and your life after college looks nothing like you thought it would, I want you to know something.

You are okay.

Let me tell you a story: a year ago I was the grad with a stack of fresh résumés ready to go, my elevator speech rehearsed, and my confidence as high as ever that I was going to successfully find a job related to my degree. I hit the ground running after I moved back home, completing well over 60 job applications and getting a half dozen interviews in the first few months. All the while, I was making my career plans around a serious relationship, certain marriage was not far off in the future.

Before long, I landed a job that met every expectation I’d been taught to have of myself post-college. Turns out life decided it didn’t like my plan very much. I ended up quitting my job after my first day. A month later I went through an emotional break up. My entire worldview and beliefs were thrown into question. My mental health tanked and I plummeted into major depression. Seriously stressful stuff happened at home. Nine months out of college, I felt like I nearly lost the desire to keep breathing.

As hard as my professors and instructors worked to prepare me for success leading up to graduation, no one had prepared me for how to handle failure. There were no lectures given on how to handle depression after college, no handouts about quitting your first job, and no conversations about how to get through questioning everything you believe.

As I stared at all my broken expectations shattered on the floor around me, I felt like a complete failure of an adult. I felt like I let so many people down, most of all myself. But turns out, it wasn’t just me facing broken post-college expectations. Nearly every friend I talked to had their stories of how life after college was turning out to be a lot harder, and downright discouraging, than they ever imagined it would be.

So to you, new graduate, I want to tell you what I wish I knew when I was in your shoes a year ago: it’s okay if your life doesn’t end up like you or anyone else expected it to as you transition into the adult world. It’s okay if your story is filled with collisions and roadblocks and detours you had no idea you’d face right now as you stand at the beginning of your journey.

You are not a failure if things don’t go according to plan. You are not any less capable of an adult because some really hard, unexpected curveballs sneak up and knock the wind out of you. It may seem like everyone else has it all together while your life is completely falling apart, but that is just not true. You and I are both part of a huge community of young adults all discovering that life after college can seriously suck. And if you find yourself somewhere down the road punched clear off your feet by something you never saw coming, don’t let it sap your passion and self-worth.

Please hear me, new grad. It’s okay if life on the other side of the graduation platform turns out differently than you expected or hoped. You’re still okay. Let yourself cry and yell and feel the disappointment. Then pick yourself up, lean on others for support, and take that next step forward.

And no matter what, know that you are not alone.

Congratulations, 2017 graduate. No matter what lies ahead, I’m cheering for you!

Your wallflower,

Sara

Class of 2016

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