3 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Graduating

Caps and gowns are covering my newsfeed. Everyone is smiling and hugging and talking about next steps. Also, do caps and gowns make people more beautiful? Everyone is somehow radiant and totally working that shapeless drape.
So I promise this isn’t some bitter post about, “Oh man, you don’t even know what’s coming hardyharhar.” Adulthood isn’t really that bad for me at this point. It’s not perfect of course, but I’ve got a wonderful job. I’ve been on some great trips and met some inspiring people. Most notably, I’ve had ice cream and beer for supper many, many times. Dreams do come true.

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I also can’t say enough about pizza. Pizza rolls, frozen pizza, artisanal-hand-tossed-fresh-daily-locally-made pizza. Dreams. Do. Come. True.

No, this post isn’t bitter. Early adulthood may be hard. It will actually definitely be hard. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. All the ice cream in the world doesn’t change the fact that we’re toddlers in grown bodies – pushing boundaries, making mistakes, receiving lectures.
But.
It can also be a time of growth and discovery and self-reflection if you let it.

I hope you let it.

Pre-grad Emilie was wildly confident. She was excited. She was adventurous. She was blissfully unaware that she was even capable of experiencing homesickness. If I could go back and tell her anything, this upcoming list would be it. Of course, I cannot go back in time. And if I could, I wouldn’t, because I would definitely, definitely, no-question ruin some type of equilibrium balance and royally screw-up the future and then lock the time-machine’s key inside said time-machine, thus absolutely dooming the world for good. (Let me know if you want to talk movie rights. I feel like we could have something there.)

So instead, I will share these thoughts with you, Reader, in real time. I hope they help:

1.) Be prepared for loneliness.

Starting off on a pleasant, uplifting note. You are welcome!
Before I graduated from college and went off to internship, a few former interns came to talk to our classes about their experiences. They admitted to feeling isolated on internship. They struggled making friends. They voiced their very hearts while I secretly scoffed and rolled my eyes. I am wildly kind and compassionate in that way. They’re not trying hard enough, I thought. They just didn’t put themselves out there. Honestly, they’re a little weird. I’ll be different. I’m different.

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I’m not like those other interns. I’m a cool intern! See how cool I am? Cool. Definitely cool. Do kids still say cool? I’m lit. I’m not like those other interns. I’m a lit intern!

Maybe you’re different. Maybe. But I had never struggled making friends in the past. From kindergarten to high school to moving across the country to college, I was able to find my people relatively easily. You see, I talk a lot, insert myself into conversations, and simply invite myself places until people just accept defeat and I declare friendship.
Until post-college.
It was difficult. Very difficult. It was uncomfortably like casually dating an entire town of people, something I am definitively not wired to do.
Be prepared for loneliness. Being lonely doesn’t mean you are weak or awkward or a failure. It means life after college is hard. It means you’re in a new place. It means that unless perhaps you’re in a shared work environment surrounded by people in similar seasons of life, friendships will take time. They will take painstaking, horrible, seemingly-endless time. And they will take boldness and a bit of awkwardness and a whole lot of vulnerability. Be prepared to invite and show up and share stories and admit you currently have a lot of free time.
Don’t allow your loneliness to define you or defeat you or isolate you. Instead, allow it to fuel you into new, brave, raw friendships as you navigate an entirely new season of life. You need to be prepared for this. It’s not easy. But it’s good.

2.) Love your city.

I moved to Knoxville fully intending to stay for 1.5 years. I decided before ever arriving in Tennessee that Austin, TX was my all-time favorite city, nothing could ever compare, and I would return just as soon as I was finished with this quick little Tennesseean adventure. You see, I know God has good plans for your life, but I’m quite comfortable sticking with my plans for my own as they are quite good plans and relatively easy plans and altogether they are plans that make for a rather lovely life.
So whether it was purposeful or not, I held Knoxville at arms length. Even after choosing to stay post-internship, I held this city and her sweet people just outside my heart. I still wanted to leave eventually and I did not want to hurt much when that inevitable separation occurred.

Friends.
Please.
Do not do this. Embrace your city. Find people who love your city and want to improve your city and then stick with them. Soak them in. Read their blogs. Go to their parties. If they have the kind of pride and joy that produces ownership, it will be infectious.

There was never a moment when I declared, “I’m done holding Knoxville at arms length!” No, it was slow and gradual and eventually just became through conversations on patios and strolls through Farmers Markets and laughs over coffee. At some point, I cam home from a trip and realized I was excited to be there. Genuine surprise. I wish I had jumped in and embraced sooner. Knoxville truly rules and you should definitely come visit us.

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By “should come visit us,” I mean GET IN YOUR CAR AND DRIVE, PEASANT. Whoops, I meant, friend, not peasant, obviously.

The years after college aren’t just an “in-between season.” This is your life, friends. This time can produce real memories and lessons and friendships that impact your heart forever if you let it. Roll with the punches, sure, but dig into every roll.

I hope you have your heart torn to little pieces when God eventually takes you to your next home.

3.) Find your identity and hold on to it with all your heart.

A lot of initial pain came from not knowing my identity. You’re graduating and moving and meeting new people and spending your time in completely new ways. When this happened to me, I was left lost, confused, and so easily frustrated.
You are not the clubs you attend. You are not the friends who surround you. You are not your instrument or your activism or your grade point average.

You are God’s.
(Or if you’re not, you can be. I mean, you’re certainly invited. We can chat. Send me a message.)

If you remember this and hold tight to this, you will have a much better chance at embracing change, grasping new opportunities, and impacting the world. Because that truth will never change. It just won’t. And I hope you know, when living in that identity, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why you cannot impact the world.

Congrats, grads. Welcome to the world of ice cream for dinner and paid vacations, early mornings and big paychecks. (I don’t care if you’re making dirt – the first paycheck feels big.)
It’s not bad.

Dive in.

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