We are less prepared for college graduation than for any other transition. We have stacks of books orienting high schoolers to college. As people get older, we offer them full curricula on how to get a job, how to date and get married, what to expect when you’re expecting, how to navigate mid-life crises, how to let your kids spread their wings and fly while coping with your empty nest (my mom wrote one of those). But when it comes to graduation, we give them some career counseling, maybe point them to an internship or two, and give them a big “hurrah!” when they finish.
All of a sudden, they’re supposed to be adults. Yet all they’ve ever been is students. What do you do when there’s no class schedule? What do you do when you have to cook for yourself, clean for yourself? What do you do when, suddenly, you go from being the golden child to just another kid trying to get a job at Starbucks?
Here are a few things that you (or that graduate you know and love) should do upon finishing school.
1. Something else.
Really. Just do something else. Anything else. But make it new. Make it fun, too. If you’re going to be drowning in transitions, you may as well enjoy the process and take some risks. Just out of a no-dancing college, I joined a few high school friends in regular outings of swing dancing. It was a welcome bit of undiluted fun in the midst of an angst-ridden time.
2. Read a book for fun, not because you have to.
Even though you’ve taken hard classes and thought smart thoughts, it’s no guarantee that you will continue to think. So make sure to read. But make sure it’s something (at least to begin with) that you want to read. If you don’t know where to start, try Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or David James Duncan’s The Brothers K. Or extend the trying-something-new experiment to reading-something-new by exploring works in a subject you know nothing about.
3. Find a less than perfect church.
That’s the only kind of church there is, of course. Graduates face change on every front, and a bit of continuity can go a long way. Find a church where you can serve and grow in community in the midst of the swirling waters of post-college life. What should you look for? Try a church that builds up the people already there and reaches out to people who aren’t. Also, find a church that loves the Bible, makes you think and feel, and welcomes a lot of different kinds of people in the same place. Do not choose a church because it’s comfortable and full of people just like you.
4. Find a less than perfect job.
They all are. I spent many years looking for a perfect job—and I can assure you, it’s not out there. So just take a job. You’ll need to pay your bills while you figure out your life, so find something that won’t drive you crazy and will help train you in some way (because your 20s are the time to train). I delivered flowers, worked as a secretary, lived in the Philippines as a go-between, paid sales tax, did some writing and editing, went to grad school, worked as a children’s club assistant, and pastored a church—and I still ended up happy in a career by the end of my 20s. It’s okay, and all but inevitable, to bounce around jobs in your 20s. Don’t be flakey, but also don’t expect to walk away from college into your dream job.
5. Find a bizarre, never-do-this-in-your-40s kind of job.
Move to Mongolia to teach English. Work on a fishing boat in Alaska. Become a window-washer in Manhattan. This is a great time to take a job that you couldn’t or wouldn’t take later when you’re grown averse to risks, picked up a mortgage, and support a family.
6. Focus on a few friends.
Your peer group will shrink considerably when you graduate (as, incidentally, will the dating pool). Look for friends you can grow close with and pursue that closeness. These friends, like that church and job, will also be less than perfect. But cultivate friendship with them by spending regular times together. You will never regret investing in friendships, and these will bring stability and needed perspective in these topsy-turvy years.
7. Learn how to cook five meals.
It’ll help you save money, teach you to slow down, and train you in hospitality. Try the taco soup I got out of the cookbook my mom gave me: equal parts canned corn, canned tomatoes, chicken broth. Heat it up, pour it over tortilla chips, sprinkle with grated cheese. Hearty and healthy.
8. Tithe 10 percent of your paycheck.
It doesn’t matter how little your paycheck is. Give from a glad heart to God. Don’t begin your post-college years with a plan to tithe when you get on your financial feet. Begin regular practices of giving small amounts in a time of want so that you will be ready to give larger amounts in a time of plenty. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills; he’ll take care of you.
9. Save 10 percent of your paycheck.
I know you don’t know where you’re going in life, but you can still plan ahead. Put away some money out of each paycheck for a rainy day—or a grad school tuition bill, or a wedding ring, or your kids’ college. Set up this withdrawal automatically with your bank. That way you only have to make this smart decision once.
10. Explore and examine.
Explore and examine three things: your city, your neighborhood, and your heart. Get to know where you live, the historical landmarks and hiking trails and regional peculiarities. Get to know your neighbors, too, and the local shops and restaurants. Learn about the plants and animals outside your home.
11. Slow down. Keep the Sabbath.
It will be easy to be so frantic to figure out your life that you never stop to explore and examine your own heart. Make yourself slow down. Make yourself reflect on this admittedly tumultuous time of transition. Spend regular time in silence. Spend an entire day without driving or spending a penny. Fight the demon of hurry. Keep the Sabbath. Student after student has told me of the transformative effective of their reserving Sunday to worship, rest, and play.
12. Pray and meditate on Scripture.
In doing these two things, we invite God into our lives to do what he will with them and we seek to fit our lives—our thoughts and words and actions—to Scripture. Ask God what he wants you to do with your life, whom he wants you to marry, all of that. But don’t just do that. Ask him to teach you about who he is, to make you someone who loves him and loves others, to enlarge your heart and open your mind to the things of the Spirit. And expect that he will do just that as you read the words of the Bible, commit them to memory, and return to them again and again.