The real world doesn’t seem so hard, at first – until it is.
For many people, the transition from college to post-grad adulthood hits them like a truck. You’re trying to navigate your new city, a new job or school, your new social life and financial responsibilities. That’s a lot to take in at 22 years old! However, you don’t have to go at it alone. Here are five of the biggest struggles you’ll face your first year out of college, whether to prepare you or to provide some comfort that you’re not alone:
1. Adjusting to your new surroundings
When you leave the comfortable boundaries of your college town and enter into post-grad adulthood, your new surroundings will feel strange for a little while. If you’re moving to a new city, you’ll feel the obvious anxieties of learning the subway system, discovering new restaurants and sights that will eventually become your common stomping grounds, and overall embracing your newfound independence.
However, even the thought of moving back to your hometown or home state can feel incredibly foreign. A lot can change in four years, and you might immediately feel like a tourist in your own town, unsure of how to readjust when you’ve changed so much.
Kristen Perrone, a recent graduate of Siena College, is already experiencing the awkward growing pains of moving home after living out of state, versus her friends who still lived close by during college. “I have a lot of hometown and high school friends who either stayed home for college or were close enough to still maintain regular social lives at home, while I was in an in-between phase for so long going back and forth between home and school. I’ve found that while I’m struggling to make a post-grad lifestyle for myself, some of my friends don’t exactly understand what I’m going through because they’ve had pretty uninterrupted lives.”
To avoid this sentiment, try finding things in your environment that make you comfortable, such as a favorite coffee shop, a hobby or your friends. By surrounding yourself which that which makes you feel at home, you’ll eventually start to feel like you are at home. Additionally, if you find yourself living back at home with your parents, you can make the space reflect your new adult status by redecorating your room and create an environment where you’ll feel comfortable bringing people over, even if it is your childhood bedroom.
2. Cultivating a new group of friends
It’s easy enough to make friends in college when you’re constantly surrounded by people your age. The same is not necessarily the case once you’ve graduated.
Whether you know a handful of people in your new city or you don’t know a soul, it can be daunting to start from scratch when it comes to your social life. What will you have in common with people? Where do you go to make friends? Do people even want to make friends outside of their existing circles?
Start small by befriending your coworkers or grad school friends, and then meet their friends and so on. Join networking groups in your city to branch out and expand your horizons both socially and, as an added boost, professionally. Grab coffee with people from college also living in your city who might have only been acquaintances in school, but could blossom into something more. It’s not as daunting as it might seem once you take the first step out of your small bubble.
3. Figuring out next steps in your career
It’s challenging enough to nail your first post-grad job. It’s even harder to figure out what to do with it and how to make the most of it in the long term.
Whether your first job is in your industry of choice or you accepted it out of desperation, it’s impossible to not start thinking about how to utilize it as a jumping-off point as you get closer to the one-year mark. Are you ready for a promotion? Should you take a breather from the corporate world and go to grad school to sharpen your skills? When there’s no one-size-fits-all rule book for how to perfectly navigate one’s career, it can feel as though you’re destined to screw up.
Allie Gaines, a 2014 graduate of Cornell University, felt the pressure of not having a pre-determined next step. She says, “All of our lives we’ve always knew what the next big milestone was going to be — elementary school, high school, getting into college, graduating from college, getting a job. Now you realize you have to decide what’s next for you. There’s no logical next step. I have to decide what I want to gain from my current job and how I want to proceed with my career.”
If you think about your future as a daunting concept, it will be stressful. Yet if you think of your future in smaller chunks, like month to month, you will be able to check off smaller goals that make you feel accomplished and as if you’re heading in the right direction. It can be helpful to create a visual representation of your goals, from writing them down to creating a vision board for your room.
4. Casting self-doubt and questioning your path
In the same vein, you also might find yourself questioning the choices you’ve made thus far that have led you to the one-year mark post-college. Did you choose the wrong major? Should you have listened to your parents and done something more practical with your life? Should you have NOT listened to your parents and sought out the career of your dreams instead? Are you where you’re supposed to be?
Soon enough, you’ll become paranoid as you let these thoughts marinate in your brain. You’ll dwell on those small choices you made in college — from your major to the internships (or lack of) you took on to the clubs you joined to whether you should’ve studied a little harder for that biology exam that demolished your GPA—and whether they’ve made the impact they should have on your real world endeavors.
However, this is a destructive way of thinking. You can’t change the decisions you’ve made in the past; rather, you can only control your future. As cliché as it sounds, you wouldn’t be where you are without those decisions, so it’s healthier to accept them and make the most of them in the short period you’ve experienced adulthood.
5. Managing romantic relationships
Gone are the days of the casual college hook-ups and relationships. When young girls are first thrust into the real world, that’s the time for them to start thinking about what they truly want romantically.
Relationships can be a struggle for a number of reasons. If you’re still single after college, you might be trying to figure out if you should put yourself out there again and if so, how. Do dating apps really work? On the flip slide, if you were with someone in college, you might face the dilemma of whether to stay with them or start fresh post-graduation. If you do stay together, there’s the chance that you won’t live in the same city, and managing a long-distance relationship can be incredibly difficult and stressful.
It’s important to understand that you’re still in your early 20’s, and have plenty of time to figure out what you want out of a romantic partner. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to find “the one” just yet and simply have fun while you’re young! Whether you’re in a relationship or not, put a good amount of your energy into things that make you happy and excited, such as your career or hobbies. The drama you’re dealing with will feel like a big deal right now, but is only as stressful as you make it.
Every 20-something goes through these struggles, and then some. However, you don’t have to let them consume your life. By focusing on the positives in your life and being proactive about the things you’d like to change, you’ll find that your struggles aren’t so bad or uncommon.