by Hannah Robinson
When I was asked to write this post, I have to admit that my first thought was “Wait, am I even qualified to write about life after graduation?” And, at the risk of undermining what little authority I have, I must say that even after a few months out in the “real” world, I would be just as likely to read a blog post about post-grad life as any of you.
When I was a senior, every alumnus or alumna I met, every recent graduate I talked to, seemed so much older and wiser. They were out in the world, independent and confidently doing remarkable things. In a lot of ways I felt the same as I did in second grade, peeking through the chain-link fence at recess to watch the high schoolers run track. How cool and mature they were! On the other side of that fence was REAL LIFE! I was sure of it. I thought this again when I graduated high school: College kids were so cool and mature! Reading Virginia Woolf on the quad? That was REAL LIFE!
Looking back, I have to laugh at myself a bit. I don’t know about you, but when I was the one running for P.E. or reading on the quad, I didn’t feel half as “cool” or “mature” as I thought people my age were supposed to be.
The difference when you graduate from college, though, is that this IS your real life. And you’re going to have to make some equally real choices about what you want to do.
I think that a lot of our collective anxiety about life after graduation comes from an overwhelming sense that we will wake up one morning as fully-formed, mature, competent, adult human beings who have their lives together. But in my experience, the transition to life post grad is a series of baby steps.
For those of you who have never seen the much underrated 90s classic What About Bob?!, “Baby Steps” is a psychological treatment handed down to Bill Murray’s character Bob Wiley as a way for him to overcome an essentially paralyzing and completely unfounded fear of everything. Though the name is fairly self-explanatory, the idea of Baby Steps is quite profound. As they explain in the film, for example, when Bob needs to leave the office building at the end of his appointment, he’s instructed not to think about all the steps he has to take to get down to street level, but to focus instead on getting from his chair to the door, the door to the elevator bank, etc. One baby step at a time.
In the movie, this amounts to some frankly hysterical antics, but the principle easily applies to the real world. All actions are a series of small processes. And when they seem overwhelming, rather than worry about the entire action—in the case of post-graduate life, what my friends and I jokingly refer to as #adulting—we can choose to focus on each small part as it comes. That might be passing your GRE, or it might be figuring out a way to get a couch up five flights of stairs without putting a hole in the wall or breaking an arm. Whatever it is may not look like #adulting, but everything is a baby step in that direction.
For example: as some of you know, after graduating last May I moved to New York City to begin a career in publishing with HarperCollins. That certainly sounds like a Big Step. And, when I put it that way, I suppose it was. But it didn’t happen all at once. I started out subletting an apartment in Brooklyn and interning four days a week. Six weeks and another sublet later, I was working full-time as a temp supporting two editors in the same imprint I had interned for. Six weeks after that I was hired on in a permanent capacity as an editorial assistant at HarperWave. Baby steps.
Seniors, I know you’re eyeing that commencement stage and thinking that this is a BIG STEP in your life. If it hasn’t hit yet, trust me, you’ll wake up one morning to the horrible realization that adulthood is a smile, handshake, and 12 steps away.
Likely for the first time in your life, you won’t have a 4-year plan. There is no checklist of classes, no syllabus, no list of required activities. For some of you, this will be tremendously liberating. For some of you, this will be a nightmare. For most of us, it’s a little of both. Either way, it’s daunting. But the choices you’re going to have to make need not comprise a Monumental Leap into Adulthood and the World of Important All-Capital Words that Matter to Your Future and the Rest Of Your Life.
Of course, I don’t in any way mean to imply that those first choices aren’t important. And with that in mind, here is my other word to the wise: this is not the time to do something because you feel that it is expected of you. We all have to do things we’re not crazy about, but if you think that grad school isn’t for you, it’s okay to dive into the work force. By the same token, it’s okay to pursue an MFA or PhD. It’s okay to go to law school. It’s okay to move home with your parents. It’s okay to do service work. To au pair. To do Teach for America. To get married. To accept a Fulbright.
These are all okay. They are all baby steps. Your first job doesn’t have to be your career. Your first apartment doesn’t have to be your permanent home. Whatever you choose is just the next baby step. One small advancement toward wherever you think you want to be heading.
And, from what I’ve seen so far, come May, you’ll all be stepping into a pretty incredible future.