Five Augusts ago, 18-year-old me checked my University of Alabama move-in email one last time, assuring myself that, in the morning, college was finally happening. 8 a.m. would be here soon, so I slipped into my childhood bed and pulled the twin-size comforter snugly under my chin. I gazed upward at the decade-old constellation of sticky, luminescent stars still affixed to my bedroom ceiling. After tonight, I thought, my life will change forever.
Four years later, there I lay once again, staring up at the makeshift vision board I had taped above my college apartment bed. My cat, Leo, shuffled around in one of the myriad boxes I had piled about the room. Tomorrow, I’d pack up my decrepit Honda and make for a new, post-college life away from Tuscaloosa. For the second time in my short span of existence, everything was about to change. Only this time, I wasn’t so sure what would be waiting for me. I knew the gravity of the moment wouldn’t hit until later, but I knew this was it.
College was over.
Now, one year into full-fledged adulting, I can safely say that I’m not only surviving, but thriving in a world devoid of $2 double-wells and XXL tees. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Class vs. Cube
One of the biggest adjustments of post-college life has been acclimating to the 8–5 groove.
Boy, how I miss those 2-hour gaps between classes. Breaking an hour for lunch isn’t quite the same as reading Voltaire on the Quad until astronomy starts.
Apart from learning time management, I had to remind myself not to expect results in my new career instantly. In college, it took years to reach the professional milestones, achievements, and reputation that I graduated with. The workplace is no different. You’re essentially a freshman all over again. Learning to stand out and make a name for yourself at work, just like in college, is a surefire way to start the climb up. Only this time, it’s done over coffee, not keg stands.
Looking 4 Friends
I remember feeling a bit lost when I first moved to Birmingham. I was out of my comfort zone, I didn’t know many people, and I couldn’t even get to the gas station without pulling up the GPS.
That’s a sharp contrast from the easygoing flow of college.
In reality, it’s not hard to make friends post-college, but it is different. Being surrounded by 20,000 people your age (plus having a constant margarita buzz) makes collegiate friend-finding oh so easy. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t instantly assemble a squad in your new city. Building relationships takes more time and effort outside of college.
Since moving, I’ve grown closer with old friends and acquaintances, and made new besties through work and mutual friends. Just like the newbies in the dorm, sometimes it takes a little prodding to get to know some of the coolest people. You never know who you’ll meet until you try.
I had never understood the concept of “finding yourself.”
I’ve already picked out my major, I thought. What else is there to decide?
Up until now, our standards of success and progress have been outlined for us: Graduate in 4 years, make an A on this paper, get 3 internships and make it look bomb on LinkedIn. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that no longer having that road map feels a little weird.
It’s not as easy as logging into DegreeWorks and checking your class completion bar anymore. You have to learn to set your own goals and aspirations, and create your own metrics by which you judge yourself.
Yeah, yeah, it’s easier said than done. And that’s where I believe the “finding yourself” thing comes into play. We’re young, we’re free, we’ve finally got (a smidgen of) our own money. Don’t waste your after-work time veg’d out on Netflix. Try sometime new, start a blog, plan a trip you’ve always wanted to take. After 22 years, it’s finally up to you to draw the plan.
How to Not Be Poor
Money was such a trivial thing in college. You didn’t really need it to get by. There were meal plans and Dining Dollars for food, and rent money came from that sweetheart Sallie Mae. I can remember cleaning out my car for the sheer prospect of finding enough stray bills and coins to pay cover for the night.
In the grown-up world, that first paycheck – while glorious – is dangerous.
Wow! I remember thinking. I’ve never seen so many digits in my bank account!
What I failed to remember with that first paycheck is that it had to fund a lot more than my weekend gallivanting. Soon, I was cursing my frivolous card swipes and vowed to take control of my poverty-inducing spending habits.
I devised a system that has worked well so far.
I added up the total amount of my monthly bills. I then halved that amount to coincide with my twice-monthly pay schedule. Every payday, that amount auto-transfers from my checking to savings. I’ll later go back and return the money when I sit down to pay bills, but it helps tremendously by giving me an instant picture of how much expendable income I’m working with.
There are lots of different apps and methods for tracking and managing spending, but this one has worked best for me.
No matter how rich you feel on payday, just remember – if you ball like a rock star this week, you’ll play Lord of Leftovers next week.
These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned in my first year out of college. If you’re in the same spot, just know that it’s not as scary as it sometimes seems. You’ll acclimate, and you might just find that some of your best adventures are yet to arrive.