I recently had the opportunity to spend time with my oldest son’s girlfriend and a group of her friends. (They had just returned from a camp reunion and were bringing back a car they’d borrowed for their weekend adventure.) We began talking about the difficulties transitioning from school to the real world can present; they had a lot to say about the topic, in fact.
Having graduated college a few years ago, they had more perspective on the subject than a recent graduate might have and I was interested to hear their thoughts. They all agreed that the social aspect of the post-college years was one of the hardest adjustments they had to make. One of the young women explained, “In college, you have a built-in way to meet friends — you are all living together, going through the same things. However, in the ‘real world,’ making new friends is nowhere near as easy.”
Thirty plus years after my own college graduation, I still remember the loneliness I felt when I could no longer walk out my door and have friends waiting to dine, chat and hang out with me. For the first time in years I had to make an effort to have a social life. Time constraints as well as distance made seeing friends difficult. Feelings of isolation are not uncommon; I know my oldest son missed his college friends, especially his girlfriend and close-knit frat brothers, when he moved to a new city for law school after graduation. Gradually, he made new friends and got involved in activities but it took time for him to adjust. He also went back to his college to visit when he was able.
My son’s girlfriend reflected that, “No one warns you about your first year out of college. Almost all of my friends went through a difficult period during this transition during which we made huge discoveries about ourselves. From my experience, the years after college are tremendous growing years.” She began her job at an advertising agency only two weeks after graduation and said it felt as if she had been suddenly, “ripped out of a warm, supportive environment and thrust into the real world.” She explained that she “still had one foot in college, which made it hard to relate to coworkers who were typically five to fifteen years my senior. This age gap was intimidating.”
No one warns you about your first year out of college. Almost all of my friends went through a difficult period during this transition.
She also echoed a feeling expressed by many new graduates — that in her new role she “felt like an imposter. I logically knew I earned this job but I also felt as if I had tricked the team into hiring me. It took me eighteen months to feel truly confident in my position. I wish someone had warned me that it takes time to be comfortable and happy in your first position.”
Transitioning from a student’s lifestyle to that of an employee takes some getting used to. After living on a college schedule it can be shocking to have to wake up early every day to report to work. In addition, going from having months of vacation time to having only a few weeks off each year, as well as having less free time each day, is not easy. It can take a while to get in the groove and adjust to a different schedule.
It can also be difficult to figure out what it is you want to be doing. Another of the young women said that she struggled the most with “discovering exactly what I wanted to do. I knew what industry I wanted to pursue but didn’t have a clue what type of job. I think what helped me the most was scaling back my long-term thinking from maybe five years out to a modest year out.”
First jobs are often not the “dream job.” However, the less-than-ideal job can be beneficial in helping someone who is new to the workforce figure out where they belong. This same young woman said that, “through having a few different jobs during my first two years —a result of layoffs, which can definitely remind you that you are a member of the real world —and working at various freelance positions, I was able to build on each experience. I ultimately found an area of the industry that I am passionate about.”
In addition to work-related adjustments, living situations post school can be stressful. My oldest son, who was fortunate to be able to afford to live in NYC, thought he had found his dream apartment in a perfect part of Manhattan. However, he soon wearied of the loud party scene in his neighborhood and, after less than a year, moved to Brooklyn where he is much happier. Finding apartments, negotiating leases, figuring out the logistics of moving were all a learning experience for him.
The young adults with whom I spoke also pointed out the positive aspects of being out of school, which include having a paycheck and not having homework or tests.
The year I graduated from college, I remember seeing the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire,” which was about a group of recent Georgetown graduates living in DC and grappling with adulthood. I related to the angst they all seemed to be experiencing and, like some of them, I felt like a kid pretending to be a grown-up. I wished that there had been an exit class before I was given my diploma that outlined some of the hazards I might encounter after college.
The young women with whom I spoke were eager to discuss their experiences, both to reflect on the post-graduate years for themselves and to share their experiences. The more people talk about the challenges that await soon-to-be and recent graduates, the more prepared these newly minted adults will be.