Wednesday, May 4, 2011

advice to a graduate.

 My brother graduated from college on Saturday. I guess this officially means we're getting older, now both adults in the real world. I won't lie: It's a scary place to be, and it's taken me a few years to even remotely feel like I belong. I remember my own graduation day in 2007, and how months later, I asked my dad, "Why don't they teach you this stuff in college?" 

Because despite my really wonderful education, I graduated not knowing very much about the real world. They just don't teach this stuff in the classroom. 

Which is why I decided to compile this, a list of things I wish my 21-year-old self had known on graduation day. 

For you, brother. Take it all with a grain of salt. 

- Don't be afraid of quitting. Life is too short to do something you don't enjoy. That's not to say every job or endeavor you pursue will be easy. But challenging is different from paralyzing. And if what you're pursuing is paralyzing to your dreams and your goals for your future self, it's okay to quit. The world makes us feel like quitting is never an option, that it's embarrassing and a tactic only employed by the helpless and the lazy. That's not true. Quitting can be brave and bold and life-altering. Weather life's storms, but know that sometimes, it's okay to step out on faith.

- Go out to eat at the occasional fancy restaurant. (Also: Know which fork is which.) Our father taught us to love hole-in-the-wall places, to love those places with health ratings that others might deem a little low. Thank goodness for that. But don't be afraid to venture into the places that require a collared shirt, because chances are, one day, an employer will ask you to meet them there. And it's going to be important that you know how to order, what fork to use, and the proper way to eat an artichoke. Don't laugh, but one of the best things Southern Progress/Coastal Living did for me was to require my attendance at a business etiquette class. Take one if you can, or if nothing else, Google around. This fork/knife stuff is serious business.

- Be yourself. I'm sure you know by now: The world is full of people who are pretending to be someone they're not. It's exhausting  and confusing and disappointing. Be the person you know you are, person to person, group to group. Authenticity is too rare of a trait; employ it, and the world will take notice. I know it sounds cheesy, but there is something to be said for people who are consistent in character. Be one of those.

- Read good books. You're pursuing a graduate degree, so your opportunity for reading "for fun" might be limited. But make the time. People who read are better writers and conversationalists. They have a keen understanding of the world around them, and their imaginations make them a more interesting bunch. You'll learn so much from what you read, both fiction and non-fiction. Continue to be a reader; the education you'll receive from the books you love will last well beyond the pieces of paper you've earned and will earn.

- Explore your town. This won't be hard where you're going, but school and work will keep you busy, so you'll need to make a purposeful effort to eat at unique places, to find the local bookstores and concert halls (do they call them concert halls?). There are too many people who complain about the town they're living in, how dull it is, how their friends are always busy, and how there's never anything to do. Don't be one of those. Don't be boring. The world is far too interesting a place to ever be bored. Make the most of wherever you settle; become familiar with it, and make it your home.

- Set reachable goals. We 20-somethings are great at wandering, meandering through this life until about 30, when we decide that's the magical age we probably should start to grow up and become adults. What a waste of years that would be! Sure, the real world is a hard place to be. And no, you don't always know where you're going or what you want to be. But being clueless and lazy is a waste of time and money and energy. Set goals for yourself in school and at work, then aim to achieve them. The goals and purposes may change, sure -- that's okay. What's important is to have in mind what you want, and to work for it.

- Have a routine. I know. I am an old woman. Even in college, I went to bed by 11:00. Jordan made fun of me for it, but you know what? I wouldn't change that part of who I am. Rest is important, and for me, school was important. If I gave up one, I knew I'd be letting the other suffer. Taking care of your mind and body is so important, and it's hard to do when you graduate and you're working full time and life doesn't look like it used to look. There aren't parents or older siblings or even well-intentioned friends to tell you how to live your life: You get to decide. And call me a prude or a stick in the mud, but I feel like a routine is really important for settling into a new lifestyle and a new town. By all means, veer from the routine some days. Have fun. But for the love, get rest and eat right. It's scriptural, you know.

- Appreciate where you come from. When I graduated from Faulkner, I had this tendency to almost apologize for where I went to school. I made self-deprecating jokes and teased about my Alabama education. But you know what? That was stupid of me. It just made me look silly for picking Faulkner in the first place. Be grateful for where you got your education. Where you're headed, you may very well be the different one, the one who didn't go to a small private college in the South. The one who lives outside the Bible belt, to whom church politics is relatively foreign. (I've been there too.) That's okay. It's good. Be grateful for it, and -- is this okay to say? -- take pride in it. The chapters of your story have been written that way for a reason. There's no sense in pretending you or the Creator made some mistake. 

- Listen to the Spirit. Our 20s are filled with some serious decision-making. It's scary, and it's a lot of pressure. You feel like one "mistake" will ruin the rest of your life. Well, I've got news: Life isn't a make-your-own adventure novel. Isn't that a relief? And the Spirit is there to guide, to help you decide where to work, who to spend time with/love/marry, what passions to pursue, what city to live in. The older I get, the more I'm convinced, though, that we waste a lot of time asking those "big" questions and ignoring the Spirit's gentle call to do God's work where we are: in our office cubicles, in the classroom, driving down the street. Ask God to make His voice clear. Listen to His call, even the whispers that are hard to hear. Let His Spirit guide you in the big and small things.


Felicia said...

Thank you for this post! Your words really resonate with me. I am graduating in December and terrified of the Grown-up World.

Jennifer said...

Wow. These are so great girl. I needed to hear the one about appreciating where you come from. I went to a small Bible college. I get embarassed about it sometimes. But you are so right, making jokes about it only makes me look stupid. I knew God called me there!

Have a great day!

mary kate said...

this is such great advice, thank you so much for sharing. im contemplating printing it out and posting it in my room as a reminder. :)

Marli and Memory said...

*Love the new blog look :)


Anonymous said...

Great thoughts for anyone at any stage in life. Remember who you belong to and where you want to go.

chet said...

My sister loves me! And her brother loves her!
Thanks Annie, I've tried my whole life to capture your endless wisdom into a short, memorable, blog post but you did it for me. Thank you, thank you.

soveryvicki said...

Love this list, Annie! As always, you are wise beyond your years. I loved that you wrote this all out for your brother--if he follows your advice, he'll definitely be ahead of the game!