The day I graduated from college the world was supposed to end. Seriously. This oddball apocalypse guy said that everything was going to hit the fan on May 21, 2011. Clearly, that didn’t happen. But in many ways, my world still hasn’t been the same since the day I graduated. And yours won’t be either.

When you graduate from college, you expect things to change. While some changes may seem obvious, we aren’t always good at adjusting to change, even change we know is coming. I’ve learned a few things in the three years I’ve been a college graduate, and I still feel the residual effects of no longer being in college in some ways. I even use a specific phrase to describe these effects: post-grad pains. No, it’s not all bad. But it does take some practical steps to make the best out of your launch into the real world.

You’re going to have to work harder at relationships. Chances are, whether you went to college far away from home or you stayed in the town you grew up in, your social circles are going to shift. Your friends won’t be on your campus, on your schedule all the time. Many of them will move away. Maybe you will, too. Since we make some of our best friends in college, this is tough. But no matter how much distance comes between you, it’s still worth it to keep up with these friendships as best you can.

And, as many twenty-somethings will tell you, it’s not quite as easy to make new friends after college. What was organic and easy during college becomes intentional and even challenging. There are no campus hoedowns or pick-a-dates (yes, real parts of my college experience) created to meet people. Even when you do meet people you click with, your friendships will often have to compete with jobs, marriages, kids, and other responsibilities.

But there’s hope. There are opportunities to meet new friends. You might join a new church or get involved with a different ministry at the church you already attend. You might start volunteering and find people with passions similar to yours. You might strike up a rapport with your neighbors or join a local rec league. You’ll have to put yourself out there and not spend all your time on Netflix (which can be hard for us introverts),  but you can do it. When you start with common bonds like beliefs, hobbies, or neighborhoods, it only helps you be more intentional as the relationship progresses. What are friendships really about, anyway? They’re about sharing life. It’s easy to be selfish with your life when you finally gain control over it (i.e. become an adult), but you’ll be so much more satisfied if you loosen your grip and offer to share it with others.

Your diploma doesn’t automatically get you a great job. Sit down and let me tell you a story, kids. A long, long time ago, when I was a youngster going through high school and college, I was told I could be anything I wanted to be. That I should follow my dreams. I was told that as long as I made good grades and got a little experience along the way, the jobs would be just be waiting for me when I graduated. Crazy, right? But I actually believed it. Maybe you still do. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but it’s not that great out there for people our age.

It’s not our fault we exited the classroom in the midst of an economic drought. Or that we were motivated through school on the promise of a bright future. Many of us were misguided somewhere along the way. But I know I could’ve made better choices. Most of us could. It doesn’t mean I want to go back and change things, but it does mean I have to live with the education I chose (which I’m grateful for) and the results. Not that you can’t add to your education, but you know what I mean.

The point is that you might have to slum it for a while not doing exactly what you want to do. Months. Years. Some people are successful right away. Others– like me– not so much. You might have to work a job you hate or gain experience by freelancing or doing internships [insert rant about unpaid internships here]. You might have to move in with your parents for a while or cram into a small apartment with a bunch of roommates. But you can do this, too. And you’ll grow because of it. For a so-called entitled generation, we sure have been working to prove ourselves with diligence.

No matter what, don’t let delayed dreams or financial constraints or less-than-ideal living arrangements make you feel like a failure. YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. Failing is an end result. And you’re not at an end. You’re still in the “trying” stage.  You’re on a journey.

You have so many opportunities to be awesome. Take them. Maybe, just maybe, getting a full-time job right out of college or moving on to another stage of education isn’t for you. Or maybe you still have windows of time in the midst of these things. Don’t let this time pass you by. If you have a chance before the responsibilities of settling down and being a real grown-up catch up with you, take it!

Travel, try new things, study the things and read the books you always wanted to in college but couldn’t. Sign on with an organization to do social justice or missions work for a few months or years. Be brave. Be bold. Take risks. Do what makes you feel alive. Spend time getting to know God, yourself, and others better. Start a YouTube channel. Write a book. Form a band. Spend time living in different places. If you’re bummed your dreams are coming true, go after other dreams or dream new ones.

There are plenty of tough things about the real world, but don’t let those things get you down. Even in a fallen world, God’s incredible grace and creativity are splattered everywhere, especially all over you. No matter what stage of life you’re in, it can be awesome.


JOIN THE CONVERSATION: What advice would you give a recent college graduate?