Lessons After College

1 year, 3 months, and 13 days ago I graduated from college. I feel the transition from high school to college is openly discussed, but the following transition into the real world is not. Life after school has taught me a lot about myself and I am writing this post as a reflection on some of the lessons I have learned (a few the hard way).

Everyone Is Making It up as They Go

There is no manual to life and how you should live it. Your parents, idols, mentors, managers, and favorite celebrities are all making it up as they go. That is the beauty of it! It is yours to define. All of your past experiences, successes, and failures have brought you to this exact moment.

Time Moves Way Faster After School

It seriously does. People claim that college will be the best four years of your life and that it moves quickly. I have two reactions to this. First, why upper bound your “best years?” College is an amazing time, but it should also be a launchpad into your best years down the road. Secondly, as the president of Y Combinator, Sam Altman, mentioned in his post on turning 30: “the days are long but the decades are short.” Years following school fly by way faster than those in school.

Mental Health Is Just as Important as Physical Health

We tend to obsess over eating the right things, working out, and making healthier physical decisions. We need to do the same for our minds. Life after college is challenging. Find ways to be at ease with your mind and thoughts. Meditate. Track your mood. Call an old friend who moved far away after graduation. FaceTime your parents and siblings. Smile while commuting to work. Say hi to a stranger. Or even see a psychiatrist every other week. Mental health is much easier to handle in a preventive fashion. It is not weird or a sign of failure to do these things. By learning to manage thoughts and emotions, mindfulness is worth its weight in gold.

In a previous post about loneliness. I failed to mention how normal these feelings are. This is especially true after graduation. You will be lonely at times in this new chapter. However, the irony of loneliness is that we all share it from time to time.

Burnout Is Real

Related to mental health, make sure to pace yourself in your work. There are no speed limits after exiting the highway that is college (more on this metaphor in a bit). Anyone who tells you that you should be firing on all cylinders 24/7 is on track for burnout. Make sure to plan time for fun. Shut down your computer after work. Revisit an old video game you loved as a kid. While we often praise the hard worker who stays in the office until midnight, we overlook the fact that having a proper work cadence is the key to a long-lasting career.

Optimize for Learning

After college, you might not exactly know your niche. That is perfectly fine. In this case, I tend to optimize for learning. Will that job at a startup pay less than the 800-pound gorilla but teach you more? Go with the startup. Your first job won’t define your entire career. Lean towards opportunities that push you outside your comfort zone.

Your Peers Are All on Their Own Trajectories

In school, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of falsely comparing yourself to others. Whether it’s by GPA or courses taken, these metrics are not clean-cut. Moreover, after school, everyone embarks on their own trajectories and you need to make sure not to juxtapose them. Life is a race against yourself.

Additionally, just because someone has years of prior experience doesn’t mean they can’t one day be your peer. “A little bit of slope makes up for a lot of y-intercept.”

From a lecture by Professor John Ousterhout

Establish Keystone Habits

Keystone habits are those that keep you due north, when everything else in life may appear to be going south. A common example is exercise. When you exercise regularly, you tend to sleep, eat, and feel better. Some of my keystone habits include writing three positive things about each day (which later turned into a habit of journaling), meditation, and reading.

No Matter What Happens, It’ll Be Just Right

Transitioning from college to the real world often leaves some aspects of your life in a difficult situation. Will you still be close to friends who are moving to a different city? Should you try a long-distance relationship with your significant other? I have coped with these difficult questions by being at ease with all possible outcomes. Some friends will naturally fall out of touch and that’s perfectly fine. Hold onto those that stay close. Long-distance relationships can work, but if they don’t, you’ll know right away. No matter what happens, it’ll be just right.

Take Time to Reflect

You know that quote about the second best time to plant a tree being now? The same applies to journaling your thoughts, feelings, and smaller moments in life. The only regret I have about actively journaling is the fact that I didn’t start earlier. Make sure to also reflect on your previous entries. It can often be a great reminder of how far you’ve come.

There Are No Guardrails

I like to think of college as a highway that you and your peers are driving along. You have the safe comfort of guardrails to keep you on track. Graduation is much like taking an exit in this regard. No one will tell you what you should do, when you should do it, or how to approach it. You are own your own now. Maybe you’ll blaze a new trail. Maybe you’ll find yourself at an intersection with an old friend. In either case, take care of your vehicle, visit rest stops, and enjoy the journey!