What I Probably Wouldn’t Have Listened to if Somebody Had Told Me: A Letter to Soon-to-Be Graduates

When I got to college, everyone seemed very concerned about whether or not we babies knew how to do things. They offered us classes on study skills and stress management. They set us up with advisers who made sure we didn’t screw up our schedules or take too many study skills classes. We had options to be paired up with older kids, who could show us the ropes or we could attend meet-and-greets so we could make friends, or, or, or…

One thing that surprised me about leaving college was just how freely they let us fly. There were no classes on how to say goodbye, but then, if there were, that would be kind of cheesy. I’m sure there were seminars on how to write a resume, but my resume wasn’t landing me a job (and I had a great resume, if I do say so myself.) I remember wandering around in those last days of April, trying to figure out how I was supposed to soak it all up when I already felt so full. I remember slogging through job application after job application, learning on the fly how to decipher what was legitimate and what wasn’t. I remember finding, through trial and error, the different ways to put a face on my resume without actually, well, putting a face on my resume. I remember never wanting it to end and being so excited to everything else to begin.

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But for the life of me, I never did learn how to properly say goodbye.

As we do, I figured it out (or am figuring it out). And because the figuring it out has been consuming my thoughts, I was taken aback when I realized the one-year anniversary of my graduation was this weekend. I don’t know why this is such a big deal except that it is. I sat at my desk and stared blankly at my planner, and the words of the other people in the office started doing that swirling thing where they moved around me but didn’t land on me. “What? What did you say? Oh, yeah, no, I can help…”

I did help, but I kept thinking about how it’s been (almost) 365 days since the one when I walked from one side of the stage to other, finding when I got there that everything was the same and everything was different. The thing I’d been working for was in my hands (or, honestly, in my mailbox a month later), and I had no idea where to go (well, I knew I had to get off the stage). In the days since then, I have learned what’s like to break, to hope, to believe, to lose, to win. With every single standard of safety evaporated, I stood in a brand-new city with a dream and on some days, I gave up, and on some days, I didn’t. (My advice is to find people who still believe for you on the days you give up.)

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The truth is that if you would have told me, “Here’s what you should know” on the day I graduated, I probably wouldn’t have known to listen. There’s no way to learn the kinds of things I’ve learned except to wake up on the days that require things you don’t have and summon up your gumption. So maybe you telling me wouldn’t have made any difference, but just in case it does, here’s what I wish I’d known.

I wish I’d known that “it” would be harder than I thought. Maybe this is my fault, but while I knew (and told my parents) that there weren’t that many jobs dangling around for us writer folk, I was genuinely surprised when I applied for a posting on LinkedIn that had been posted for half an hour and already had 87 other applicants. It was a job at a farming co-op. I didn’t even want to work at a farming co-op! I didn’t even know what a farming co-op was! I had to reassess my efforts quickly and write a really banging cover letter. Practically speaking (especially for you creative types), write a personal cover letter; it’s your first way to make yourself a person instead of a piece of paper. And always try to find an email address so that you can make yourself a witty email-composer instead of a piece of paper. And don’t limit yourself to job postings—email everyone in your field and ask to set up a meeting, because then you really are a person. People like people. People throw paper away.

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And that said, I wish I’d known that “it” would be more than a job. Some days, I was sure that as soon as I landed a job, all my anxiety would melt away, but I can tell you that life is forever handing you the opportunity to be anxious. I recommend putting on your big-girl panties and being brave. I recommend doing things you don’t want to do; on the other side of being brave are the moments you’re brave for, but being brave comes first. So bravely move forward, whatever that means. For me, it was meeting with editors over coffee; it was my first day of work; it was a first date; it was meeting the family and it was going skydiving and it was having a hard interview and it was writing something that made me vulnerable. And it was worth it, every time.

I wish I’d known that “it” would take time. My life felt so strange for much longer than I thought it would; I felt called to this city, and yet, we had to be together for a while before it felt like home. Turning this life into something comfortable was conscious and it wasn’t, but I’ll tell you one thing—it took time. It’s not even that I missed college; I didn’t, really. I just felt out of place for a while there, like I didn’t belong anywhere. Until one morning when I woke up and I did belong here.

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I wish I’d known I really had no idea what “it” was. Over the months, my it would change and shift; the it I was chasing then and the it I’ve found are two very different things. I’m glad what I’ve found is what was waiting for me, because this is far better than I imagined it could be.

And I wish I’d known that some things are transcendent: Everything changes, except for the things that don’t. I worried that I was losing everything, that before long, I’d be sending my best friends Christmas cards and I’d be a sad, old woman who grumbles about times past at the ripe age of 24. And I would charge you to sow into those relationships you care about, but relationships in general take a lot of work. Life, in general, takes a lot of work, something for which college prepares you if you’re taking the right classes. In any case, sometimes things like friendship and coffee addiction stretch over distance and time in a way that make feel more sure of the world than you thought possible.

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I learned how to pray like my life depended on it and I believed, perhaps for the first time, that it did. I learned how to hope for things unseen; how to trust in the promises of a good God. I learned how to worship when I could barely whisper and how to tell my story when I was afraid no one wanted to hear. You learn; you step in the puddles and you cry in the shower and you lean your head back and stare at the blue, blue sky. There are a lot of “Should I?”s and “Can I?”s and “Wills I?”s, and the answers are sometimes, yes, and maybe. There’s no class to teach you any of this, but God and the universe and the blue, blue sky will teach you if you let them.

A year out, I feel about as grown up as I did in the fifth grade. But there’s evidence to the contrary, I suppose; maybe the thing I’ve learned, more than anything else, is that you never really feel like you’ve made it. You just do what you do and you wander along, figuring it out as you go. Don’t be scared of this—life is either an adventure or something else. Choose adventure.

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