Here’s the advice I wish I could go back in time and give to myself. (Also I realize this seems “early” for college graduation, but trust me the next month or so is going to fly by.)
Celebrate | I am the type of person who likes to *ding* check stuff off my list. By the time I check something off, I’ve moved onto the next thing. In this case, I considered graduation a done deal and I was ready to get a job and move on with my life. It’s terrible, but at the time, I truly didn’t believe graduation was that big of a deal. I wish I had taken the time to be proud of the accomplishment instead of wishing it to be over.
Say better goodbyes | I did a terrible job saying goodbye to people. I think I was in denial or didn’t really get it, but it’s the last time you’ll be in the same place as your classmates at one time. Yes, you’ll bump into people post-graduation (five Hoyas live within a block of me in NYC!), but it’s not the same. Say goodbye. Don’t burn bridges. Make sure you thank professors who really influenced your time at school. And don’t just say goodbye to people, tour campus… soak it all in.
It all works out | This was the root of all my stress. And, look, everyone told me it was all going to work out and it wasn’t that I didn’t believe them, it was that I couldn’t. Getting a job seemed impossible. Finding an apartment in a new city seemed daunting. Figuring out “who I was” felt important yet unfeasible. Even if you don’t believe me… it does all work out.
(The real trick to believing this is asking yourself, “What’s the alternative?” Your life isn’t going to magically unfold, but if you take control and you’re smart about your decisions and actions, it does work out.)
Take it one step at a time | Going off that last thought, the best way to get things done is to take it one step at a time. It’s like my favorite phrase: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Literally break everything down. Start by listing all the things you have to do. Update resume, reach out to this person, pack up your dorm, apply for this job, look for an apartment, interview for this job, inquire about that internship, etc. In my opinion, just writing everything down seems to take a weight off my shoulder. Tasks seem massive in my head and then, when written down, don’t seem quite as daunting. Break down those tasks into even smaller chunks and tangible items. For example, if moving out of your dorm seems stressful (always was for me), your list might say: buy boxes, schedule pick up time, pack desk, pack shoes, pack clothes, etc. It will also give you some momentum when you feel like you’re getting stuff accomplished and working towards completing a task.
Don’t rush | While you’re off accomplishing everything you need to accomplish as you graduate, don’t rush. Again, I was ready to peace out of college and as a result everything slipped by me. It’s going to be a blur whether you rush or take your time, so take your time and enjoy the process. I know graduating seems like an incredibly scary time, but when you look back three years later (like I’m doing now) you’ll want to have some good memories of your last month or so on campus.
Take a nap every day and a vacation of some sort | This is sort of like a subset of not rushing. After I had graduated and returned home and turned down job offers and let the panic of not finding a job I was passionate about set in… I should have relaxed and remembered it would all work out. I tortured myself. In reality, I got a job offer within 30 days of being home. Looking back, those 30 days could have been better spent other than freaking myself out. They’re sort of your last stab at childhood/freedom. I wish I had napped more. And I wish I had taken a vacation, traveled somewhere.
Follow your instinct | I read all kinds of tips, I listened too all sorts of people… but at the end of the day, the best person to listen to and trust is yourself.
It’s funny because as I wrote this, I realized that I could still use this advice today. It’s not only applicable during graduation season.
PS The one thing I did do that I can look back happily on is my last group project. I hated group projects in college, but the last one of my final semester was amazing. No one else in the class took it very seriously, but my group did. We pulled a few all-nighters, conducted serious research (including Skyping with families in the UK), and created a legit commercial– complete with voice overs. I felt like I went out with a bang academically.
PPS If you’re not in college yet, here’s an older post with the things I wish I had known back in high school.