An Open Letter to New College Grads

Dear Collegiettes,

Your caps are decorated. Your dorm room cleaned out. You’ve said goodbyes to professors, to friends, to crushes, to campus. You feel excited and happy and sad and terribly, terribly afraid all at once. You don’t know whether to sob, cheer or drink—or all three.

Related: 20 Signs You’re About To Graduate

I’m here to tell you, a few years later, that the real world isn’t as bad as you think it will be. Yes, most of the clichéd advice is actually true—I know because I lived it.

First: The real world is nothing like college. You are not prepared.

After driving the familiar three hours from my now-alma mater back home, I was shellshocked. I refused to believe it was over. It was just another summer break, I convinced myself. It wasn’t until September rolled around and I realized I was not packing up everything to return to school that it really hit me: I had become an adult.

I freaked out. What did I know about being an adult? How do you cook anything besides pasta? Where were my friends when I needed them? Everyone was so far away and all I felt like doing was scrolling social feed after social feed, desperate to live vicariously through the new class of seniors.

You have two options: freak out or embrace it. Or both. There’s nothing wrong with spending an evening bingewatching Disney movies and eating cookie dough because dammit, adulthood is hard, and you miss college.

Then: I moved on. It took time—almost an entire year—but I realized that not doing final papers at 3 a.m. was kind of okay. Because I wasn’t running around trying to do homework, I could actually pursue what I love: writing. It wasn’t until I graduated that I had the time to focus on something completely different.

Embrace the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Unless you went to culinary school or became an accountant (in both cases, power to you) you will be dramatically unprepared for the real world. Health insurance. 401k. Cooking for yourself. It’s seriously overwhelming. And there’s more to come.

The good news? You have Google, and your parents didn’t. We have the world of information at our fingertips—use it! Whether that’s watching Youtube videos of how to cut an onion or reading up on different health insurance plans, you’ve got this. After all, if you can whip out a 10-page final paper on adrenaline and Redbull after two days of no sleep, you can do this.

Second: It’s going to be okay.

Whether you’re spending your last few days alternating between sobbing and partying or have already skipped town, you’ve just completed a major chapter in your life. Give it the attention it’s due.

My biggest regret of senior week and graduation was not taking the time to say goodbye. I was so emotional about all of the lasts that I didn’t take the time to sit down and talk to many of my friends. Now all we have is the occasional WhatsApp and Facebook post, especially with those of my friends volunteering, teaching, or working abroad. I can’t talk to those people face-to-face anymore, and I wish I had taken the time to do so before I left.

Instead, I worried about what I was missing and rushed from party to party and activity to activity, desperate to get my mind off of the impending doom of graduation.

Stop for a second and do as Ferris Bueller advises: look around a bit, and relish it. Stop worrying about the next for focus on the now. You won’t remember what you wrote your final paper on, but you will remember staying up all night to stargaze on the quad.

Related: Why It’s Okay Not To Have A Job At Graduation

Senior year is bittersweet for all of us. A year of lasts. Last first day of school, last swim meet, last jazz band concert, last pub night. They keep piling up until you’re there: your last day of college.

You’re about to cross a precipice into a world of firsts.

By focusing on the lasts, we miss all of the firsts that come next. First real apartment, first dinner party where you actually cook, first real job, first time doing your taxes.

Yes, some of those might seem boring. But these firsts represent a giant leap into adulthood that doesn’t really sink in while you’re tossing your cap into the air.

One of my proudest moments my first year out of college was completing my taxes—without calling my parents, without talking to an accountant. And I got returns back. I didn’t mess it up. Thank goodness for TurboTax, but either way, it was my first moment of:  “Okay, maybe I’ve got this.”

It may be daunting to look out into your life and see no more structure—no more four-year chunks of schooling—but that gives you the possibilities to do literally anything you want. Your career will change more times than you can count, but in the end, it will all be okay. Just as your college search was fraught with worry and tension and disappointment, so too will be your job search. One of my mentors at my first job told me, “Imagine your life is this meter stick. Your first job only looks like 1 inch—one snippet. You have the time to figure things out.” Even if it feels like this job is the be-all and end-all, especially if you hate it, you will find something new. You’ll be able to do more than one thing your entire life.

There’s so many choices, it can be overwhelming. Where do you live? What city? With whom? I live with my boyfriend, and I wasn’t sure that would work. I rewatched Friends and How I Met Your Mother and wondered, “Am I doing this wrong? Should I be with all my friends in New York right now?”

But that’s not right for me. I couldn’t be happier in the boonies with my best friend. You end up where you’re meant to be.

If that’s living with six of your best friends in a tiny apartment in New York City a la Friends, great. If that’s traveling the world on a shoestring budget, amazing. If that’s moving in with your long time partner and deepening your relationship, that’s great. And if you’re single, loving it, and heading to a brand new city where you know no one—that’s great too.

As you cross the stage, accept your diploma and shake hands, you’re also crossing into a brand new chapter of your life. Embrace the adventure and craziness that the real world brings. Ups, downs, and in betweens, get out there—and get living.

Oh, the places you’ll go.

HCXO,

A Graduette