The day of graduation is so exciting. All the hard work, hours of cramming, and all-nighters have finally paid off.
It’s a day that marks the turning of a page and signifies a new chapter of life—a day to look back with pride at all that’s been accomplished and look forward with hope at all that’s yet to come.
But school isn’t always an accurate reflect the real world, and as exciting as graduation day is, so often the days and years that follow are filled with discouragement and despair at unmet expectations.
So what should we expect when it comes to entering the “real world”? Here are some lessons every college grad needs to learn along the way:
Friendship Looks A Lot Different in the Real World.
In college, friendship is easy, and peers are built into nearly every aspect of life (whether or not you want them to be). Alone time is an anomaly.
But after graduation, friends scatter to new towns, and you might find yourself having to start from scratch. Making friends takes effort, and keeping friends takes work, scheduling and prioritizing.
However, it’s only when the convenience of friendship disappears that true friends are identified. I look back fondly at the hundreds of friends I made in college, but I am most thankful for the handful of friends who’ve stayed true to the end.
Money Can’t Buy You Happiness, But Learning to Manage it Will Save You A Lot of Stress.
Usually, real life comes with all sorts of new financial responsibilities. While money can’t buy happiness, the lack of it can add a lot of unnecessary stress to your life. It’s best to learn early on how to set a budget, minimize debt, pay your own bills and start giving back to God the money that’s already His. When you can learn to honor God with your pennies, you can be entrusted with even more.
You Will Go From Being Top Dog to Underdog in Seconds.
There are perks to being a college senior. You’re the big man (or woman) on campus, connected to the routine of college life and in the know. But after graduation, that will get flipped on its head. Your experience will be limited and your knowledge lacking—yet your responsibility will increase tenfold.
It can be intimidating to feel like you’re starting from scratch and having to relearn the ropes. Do your best to take it in stride. Never be afraid to ask questions, adapt a teachable spirit and learn the art of the smile and nod. At the end of the day, people care less about how much you know and more about how much you’re willing to learn.
You Really Do Need Sleep to Survive.
One of the hardest lessons about real life is that your body eventually catches up to you. The unhealthy habits of eating at 4 a.m. and pulling all-nighters before a big exam can only sustain themselves for so long. You eventually realize that your body needs to be taken care of in order for your mind and emotions to function at their best.
Your Career Doesn’t Have To Be (And Probably Won’t Be) Just One Thing.
Sometimes it feels like we’re expected to graduate high school with our 20-year plan mapped out, and it can be disappointing when things don’t go as expected—or worse yet—we don’t quite know what we want.
But a career usually looks more like a series of stepping stones than a giant leap. It’s OK and important to experience the little steps of those not-so-ideal jobs along the way because they introduce us to life, carve out our interests and teach us a little more about who we are.
’Independence’ is Overrated.
As much as we all want to be able to take care of ourselves, we need people to survive. People who will challenge you, teach you and sharpen you to become your best self.
We were made to be in connection with others in the form of community. Get connected to a community of friends, because interdependence is so much healthier than independance.
There’s So Much More to Learn About Yourself.
I thought I knew myself pretty well when I was in my early twenties. But what I didn’t realize is that I had so much left to learn about myself. I had yet to really look back at my past or even begin to envision my future. God was still shaping me in ways I could have never imagined.
Take the time to get to know yourself, but remember that there is always so much left to know.
Your Education is Actually Just Beginning.
The closing of the textbooks marks the opening of something far more important: life lessons. There is much more to learn about life, compassion, service, suffering, patience and handling hard times.
So many of my greatest lessons have not come from any book, but from God’s extreme grace in teaching me how to live this life one day at a time. Intelligence is a great thing, but there is nothing more desirable than wisdom. Be sure to pray for it every single day.
You Teach People How They Can or Can’t Treat You.
I used to feel sort of helpless in relationships (both romantic and friendships), focusing on the reality that I couldn’t control what others did, said or how they behaved. But I’ve realized that while I can’t control what others do, I’m empowered to take ownership of how I act, react, interact and respond to the relationships I’m in. I can say “no” to unhealthy things and “yes” to the things that are good. I can set boundaries and guidelines.
Your Best Years Are Yet to Come!
It seems you always hear people looking back at their college days as the “good old days.” But now that I’m a decade past college, I can assure you that every stage of life brings the opportunity for more wisdom, more life experience and more joy. I’ve deepened my relationships, extended my influence and watched God do many things I never could have imagined.
So whether you graduated last week or years ago, as you look ahead at the real world, be empowered, encouraged and know that you are equipped to do great things from this day forward. God has great things in store for you. Enjoy the ride!
Debra is a Licensed Professional Counselor, relationship expert, speaker and author of several books, including True Love Dates. Debra is also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.