What I Learned In The Freshman Year of Life
For me, college didn’t end. It faded away.
There was no mass exodus of friends from campus the day after graduation, no overwhelming number of hurried, teary goodbyes and promises of periodic Facebook chats. I lived in my college apartment for two months after graduation day, then moved only a few miles south to the city where a fair number, if not most of, my friends from school currently reside. There was no particular moment where I was like, “Okay, this part of my life is over, now onto the next thing.” It all kind of blended into one another. A vague haze of moving on.
As I come up on the one year anniversary of my graduation from college,1 I’ve been thinking about what I know now that I didn’t know then. Gauge my growth and stuff like that. I’ve been a “real” person for about a year. What have I learned?
Truth is, sometimes I feel like it isn’t that much. I still struggle to do basic human things like not park where I won’t get towed or clean my shower properly. At other times, though, I can look back at situations that I used to fuck up that I no longer do and say “Hm, maybe I have learned a thing or two.”
Here are a few of those things I’ve picked up so far:
-You have a lot more free alone time. For those reading this who went into finance: First off, sorry. Second off, ignore this paragraph.
For the rest of you: A lot of college was structured togetherness (Classes, extracurricular activities, Greek houses, sporting events, shows, parties), or structured aloneness (studying). Besides from work, real life has very little structure. You’re expected to be in very few places, and it takes a lot more energy to fill your time. If you take the “Imma wait until they text me” attitude, you’re going to be spending a lot of time sitting on your couch, staring at your phone, waiting for it to buzz. It’s really easy to disappear because it requires zero effort. If you want friends or outside time, you have to be an active participant in making that happen.
The flipside of this is that if you, like me, enjoy taking time to yourself and being a lone wolf (that’s the phrase I use in my head to make myself feel awesome when actually I’m just sitting in my room with the door closed, not answering texts, flipping through Imgur) every once in a while, it’s real easy to do that. You’re not constantly being inundated with organized stimuli, obligation, or time pressure. It’s actually quite nice from time to time.
-Your energy is your most precious resource. The world is filled with people who don’t give a shit about their jobs and are only willing to put in the minimum amount of effort necessary to not get fired and keep cashing that paycheck. I don’t judge these people. I get it, a lot of jobs suck. Not everybody seeks fulfillment in their work, and not everybody has to. What that means, though, is that if you go into work every day, consistently put in your best effort, and are kind and respectful to your coworkers, you’re (probably) going to stand out, provided that you’re not a complete dunce. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll actually reap any rewards from this attention, because the world is an unfair place that is dark and full of terrors, but you will at least get noticed.
The same goes for your friendships. It will surprise you how few people put any energy into being a good friend. Without the structure of college, it’s much more difficult to see the people you care about. Prioritizing your friends, being physically present and emotionally available, takes more out of you than it ever has before. It is true that you are going to have to be pickier. That guy who you hung out with all the time mostly because he always happened to be at the party? You’re going to have to decide whether or not you still want him in your world, because you aren’t going to be running into him anymore. Choose wisely, because you’ll need them to get through this thing (Life). Treasure the people who choose you, because their attention is a limited resource as well.
–Dating is real hard. We’ve covered this. But I’m not even talking about the actual act of going out to a public place with a person for the purposes of getting to know them and appraising the pros and cons of touching faces and genitalia with said person. I’m talking about finding a person at all. Meeting new people is hard. That’s why so many people turn to dating apps even though after a while they make a lot of us feel icky. I can count on zero fingers the people I know from my graduating class who have entered into a serious relationship with a person they didn’t know before they graduated that they are still in that didn’t use a dating app. So I’m not shitting on them completely, but those people are the lucky ones.
I don’t really have thoughts on how to overcome this, because I sure as hell haven’t. 2 You’re also not going to be in a place where you’re going to be too keen on dating at all. It’s another one of those energy things, and putting any amount of time into a person with whom it’s probably not going to work out anyway isn’t always going to appeal to you, and that’s okay. A lot of this life thing is going to be about figuring out who you want to be, and often having to do that in the context of another human makes that difficult, and it’s alright to accept that you’re just going to be single as fuck for a while.
There’s a common thread here: We liked structure far more than we thought we did. At least I did.
When you’re a kid, building a life is easy. School, friends, hobbies, it was all so easily accessible because it was handed to you by people whose job or societal obligation it was to make it accessible for you. Now you’re on your own and you have to figure out how to do that for yourself. It’s hard. So is aging. So is facing the rest of your life and not knowing what the fuck you’re going to do with it.
The best I’ve been able to do is fight for the things that bring me joy, and hope that the rest figures itself out.