In the past two nights I have seen both my brother and my sister-in-law, dressed in gowns and tasseled hats, walk across a stage to receive their high school diplomas. I am so proud and excited for them as they celebrate their hard earned accomplishments and this milestone in their lives.
I am currently 7 years post my high school graduation and almost five years post college graduation – there’s a far enough distance for me to have perspective but still close enough for me to remember the feelings that came after being handed that diploma. The feelings of excitement and pride followed by the looming “Now what?” after the euphoria faded.
Each person is unique with different personalities and different experiences and life paths. However, based on my own personal experiences here are nine things I would tell my 18 year old recently graduated self:
1. Make the Faith Your Own
This is the first and most important thing I could ever tell you. If you go to a public university like I did you will be faced with a lot of very opinionated and very biased individuals. You will find yourself in classrooms with extremely anti-religious and anti-God professors who will use their position of authority to get on a soapbox and tell you why you should agree and believe their point of view.
There comes a point in every single person’s life when they have to make the decision whether to believe or not believe. Growing up in church, this was a decision I made when I was seven years old. However, in my freshman year of college, I realized I was an adult. An adult surrounded by a whole lot of people who opposed the principles of my upbringing. There comes a time when you realize it’s you and God. Your faith is no longer defined by your parents or your friends. Your faith is defined by your relationship with God Almighty. Is He your God or isn’t He? Is your faith your own or have you relied on the faith of your parents, preachers, or friends?
Make your faith your own. Choose to believe Him. Choose to follow Him. Choose to love Him. Choose Him.
If you are ever confronted with concepts that cause you to doubt, go to a trusted individual who will speak truth to you. Let them inspire you in the faith. Let them point you back to the One who is Truth in a world blinded by so many lies.
2. You Don’t Have to Have it all Figured Out
There is so much pressure to know exactly what you are going to major in and who you are going to be when you “grow up.” Now what is a question you will probably get a lot. What are your future plans? What are you going to do with the rest of your life? There’s a lot of pressure riding on these decisions that at the time seem like they will make or break your entire life’s existence. What if you change majors? What if you don’t succeed in the area you always dreamed of? What if you literally don’t know what or who you want to be?
Let me tell you a secret, new grad, most adults still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.
Because a degree doesn’t define what you’ll do or who you’ll be.
I know people who majored in one field and have careers that are completely different from their area of study. I also know people who earned a specific degree and have a job in their tailored field of expertise.
So take a deep breath, it’s okay to not have it all figured out. Because that’s the thing with life, it doesn’t always go according to your plan.
3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
It never failed, on the first day of a new semester I’d always experience a minor/major anxiety attack.
Looking at all that was required on the very detailed and very overwhelming syllabi – it seemed impossible. One class seemed impossible, let alone 3 or 4 or 5. Remember professors go over the entire semester’s coursework requirements in one day. And in one day it would be impossible, but spread out over a period of 16 weeks, it isn’t so impossible.
4. Someone May Do It Better
As an overachiever, it’s eye opening to learn that even when I tried my best, there were other students who did it even better. In classes that I excelled at, there were students who excelled even more. Realize that your security and identity is not found in your own accomplishments or abilities, or lack thereof, your identity is found in Jesus. And you don’t have to earn His love or grace. It’s a gift, so take Him up on it. Take His grace.
5. Be Diligent in Your Work
While post grad life allows for more freedom, more freedom also comes with more responsibility. Work hard at studying. Work hard at your job. Develop a good work ethic. College is just the start. Having a good work ethic in your studies will only help you transition into the “real world” when you do receive that college diploma and have the same sense of Now What deja vu.
6. It’s Only the Beginning
Contrary to popular belief, high school will not be the “best time of your life.” Neither will college. Yes, you will have great memories and maybe even write something like this ode of reflection one day, but the greatest days are ahead of you. There is so much life left to be lived. There may be tears and heartache, but there will also be laughter and love and joy.
7. Friendships Will Change
This one may be one of the hardest things my 18 year old self could hear. Friendships change. People change. Some friendships will grow distant, some will even end. Even though it may hurt, you will survive. The same high school friends you have may not be the same college friends you have or the young married friends or young parenting friends you have or the mature adult friends you will have. The Lord is faithful to bring new friends in different seasons of life.
Your identity and sense of purpose is not tied to your friendship circle or associations. We are called friends of God. He’s the only real constant, real stable, and real faithful friend you could ever have. Find your identity in Him and Him alone.
8. Don’t Wish Your Life Away
There is a definite shift in college, just like there is in high school. The first couple of years you worry about making friends and getting into the right classes and keeping a high GPA. If you go to a large public university like I did, you may also experience great anxiety over making sure you can even FIND the classroom and making it across campus to get there in time. The last two years senioritis kicks in. You start dreaming of life after school.
In retrospect, I wish I could have saved myself a lot of the anxiety and stress I experienced. It seems like we are always looking for the next milestone, the next big life change. In high school and college we look towards graduation, after graduation we look towards establishing a career, after that we look towards marriage, after marriage we look towards starting a family. What happens after all those life milestones, we look forward to retirement? Then what? We look back on life and realized we actually missed it? We missed living our own lives because we were so focused on the next thing.
Enjoy the process. Enjoy your life now. One of my favorite quotes is by Jim Elliot:
“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
9. Live Life Well
I could tell myself I wish I would’ve known these things when I graduated high school, but in a way I already did. My parents gave me similar advice as I’m sure most recent graduates’ parents gave them. I didn’t really believe it or understand it at the time though. It’s one thing to be told – it’s another thing to live it.
We can listen to another’s advice, but maybe living it is part of the growing up process, part of becoming our own person, our own adult.
Maybe you just have to experience these things for yourself, because of this heartbreaking yet beautiful thing called life.
You will have your own experiences, your own tips and tales to tell.
We all have one life to live.
So let’s live it well.
May you grow and become strong and filled with wisdom and may the favor of God be upon you. (Luke 2:40)