One Year Later: Post-Grad Lessons For the First Year

While technically it has been a little over a year since I graduated, it has been officially one year since I moved to Chicago and started working full-time. While this fact certainly comes to mind often, it also still completely blows my mind. It’s definitely been the most challenging year of my life, and the most surprising. 
I think some of the most challenging parts have led me to believe that my first year in the city was pretty rough, but then something small like a fun memory or scrolling through my Instagrams from the last year I realize…I’ve done some seriously fun and amazing things that I never expected or imagined! 
Don’t mistake this for me saying that I can look through the filtered, edited and snapshot editions of my social media accounts as a full-circle representation of reality…but they’re a great reminder of all of the best parts. I think it’s a little bit easier to be reminded of the hard times because they push you and force you out of your comfort zone (and usually last a little bit longer than a fun party or a great weekend trip). 
I wish more than anything that someone close to me had better prepared me for what was to come – but I also understand why it’s something you need to experience for yourself. So with that being said, here are some of the ways my friends and I have come up with to help you combat those feelings of loneliness, nerves, stress, and a general sense of misdirection…for us, the biggest comfort was realizing that everyone feels this way!

Break from your Routine
Establishing a routine is definitely super important, and for a while it felt like that was what was helping me keep hold of my sanity and feel a little bit less lost while I adjusted, but I got so strict with my routine that sometimes the weeks felt completely unbearable. I go to work, go to the gym, cook, clean, shower and take care of little projects here and there. It’s great – but I have now realized that I have to remind myself (especially while we still have warm weather and the desire to leave our apartments) that it’s OK to ditch the routine and get drinks with a friend, go see a movie, or go window shopping – whatever it is, just something fresh that makes the weeks feel a little less monotonous. Going to work 40 hours a week is already way more structure than you’ve had for the last four years in college, so there’s no need to overdo it right off the bat. The other things are just as important – it’s all about balance!
Say Yes
Some of the best experiences I’ve had in the city so far have been things I wasn’t sure I wanted to try, was too tired/cranky/stressed to be interested in, or too intimidated by the unfamiliarity. But once I did them, I walked away from every single one raving about how glad I was that I had finally caved and decided to do it. This ranged anywhere from birthday dinners in the middle of the week to seeing random concerts I’d never heard of, trying new fitness classes, or exploring unknown areas of the city with friends. The more I’ve said yes to certain experiences, the happier I’ve been during the weeks. Keep trying to say yes – it will definitely surprise you.

Join In
Think back to when you were a lost freshman in college…what was one of the first pieces of advice anyone gave you? Join a club! Join a team, or an organization, or take a painting and cooking class with your friends. This falls right into the category of breaking up your routine. The beautiful thing about the working world is that now you can afford to try something new once in a while. It doesn’t have to be something big, or a large time commitment. It can be as small as joining your company’s intramural kickball team (yes, I did this and it was so much fun! Has anyone else missed playing kickball since…middle school?!) There are infinitely more things to try in big cities, and I guarantee friends will want to join too. It’s also a really fun way to meet more people…sounds just like college to me!

Be Alone
This year is LONELY. It doesn’t matter if you have family and friends and everyone you might want around you…you’re going to feel lonely sometimes. You no longer live in a house or dorm packed with large groups of friends, or inside your family’s bustling home. You’re a busy adult now, and that means earlier nights and people doing their own things more often. For me, this meant learning to be okay with doing things alone, such as: dining at a restaurant with a book, walking through street festivals on my own, going for walks and sitting by the lakeshore by myself, heading to movie theaters without a friend…all of these things terrified me at first, but now I really enjoy it!

Look to the Future
For the past 18ish years, you’ve had a very clear line of what comes next. Four years of school here, four years of school there…but now you’re staring down an endless line of years stacked on top of each other and total freedom for how you choose to spend them. This is an incredibly powerful position to be in,m but obviously it’s overwhelming. Fun fact: you don’t have to have everything figured out yet. You don’t even have to have the next full year figured out. Start with 3-5 things that are very important to you in this first year, set a goal for them, and figure out why they matter and how you are going to make them happen. These can be goals such as getting in shape, reading 250 books, finding a mentor, or making five new friends…the options are endless and totally up to you.

More than anything, just understand that this year is unpredictable, crazy, fun, intimidating, and it will be the fastest year of your life. Don’t stress about the little things and lean on your friends when you need them. Enjoy the ride!

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