© 2017 by Cierra Kaler-Jones

What I've Learned One Year Post-Grad

May 14, 2016

 

I’ll be honest. Post-grad life is scary. Actually, it’s downright terrifying. If you would’ve asked me a year ago where I envisioned myself now, I would probably rattle off a series of exclamation point worthy excitements. Job! Grad school! New city! Adventures! New people! Adulthood! Fun! Freedom!

As I detailed more in WhatI Wish I Knew about Grad School, post-grad life wasn’t actually as glamorous as I originally anticipated. It was about a year ago that I walked across the commencement stage with a glimmer in my eye and a dollar and a dream. Throughout my undergraduate years, I changed in my temperament, my beliefs, my goals,my style, while still keeping the embedded core of what defined my values and characteristics, with a little fine tuning(aka learning that white eyeshadow is NOT attractive). I was exiting a stage that I entered so fragile and frail with a better understanding of how my experiences, my upbringing, and my decisions shaped me into an accomplished woman. I thought, at the time, that I was finished growing. That I hit my peak evolvement. I was on top of the world. I was a college graduate for goodness sake! I was moving to the nation’s capital! I now realize that that was only the beginning of a much grander and larger journey that would shapeshift my soul.

 

I look back at pictures of myself from a year ago and wonder what that girl would’ve said now. What would she think? Would she even recognize me? One of the quotes I cherish most is, “The days are long, but the years are short,” said by Gretchen Rubin. In the day-to-day we don’t see the growth happening. We feel the pain, we hold back the tears, we dust off our kneecaps, and we continue to push on. In those moments of weakness and despair, we fail to equate the discomfort with advancement. The year was short, yet in that time I learned a host of lessons.

 

Be ready to veer from the plan

When I graduated from high school, my plan was to move to New York City, get my degree in dance, and spend the rest of my life dazzling audiences onstage across the country. This specific dream never actually happened in the way it’s detailed, but happened in other venues as I built up my community arts program and offered free dance lessons to students across my state. When I was getting ready to graduate from college, I thought I would get a full-time position immediately or be on my way to law school. That didn’t happen exactly as I had outlined in my plan, but I ended up delving into a graduate program to focus my interest in education, landed two life-altering internships(both which led me to many visits to the White House and re-discover my love of writing), and started working in higher education, making me more well-rounded and challenging me to be a more effective and efficient leader. Life happens sometimes. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it is first and foremost that you can’t account for everything. You can plan a picnic, but you can’t predict the weather. Everything is subject to change, and you have to be strong enough and have the utmost faith to weather the storm. This leads me to my next lesson.

You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

 

We get so caught up in where we think we’re supposed to be, when in reality, there’s no way of actually knowing. What is for you will never pass you by. If you think something is for you, and it moves on without you, wave goodbye because you probably just dodged a bullet. If we get stuck living in the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve beens, we never get to appreciate the now.

You have to love yourself. That is a YOU thing.

 

I’m about to admit one of my biggest faults. I look for love in other people. I expect them to pour into me and fill all of my gaps with their unfaltering love. I expect them to do the job that’s been laid out for me to do and that is love myself. When the days of on-campus glory fade, people move on with their lives, stop liking your pictures on Instagram, and press interviews stop. People stop reaching out to you because you no longer have anything to offer them. Sometimes the only voice you’re going to hear is your own and you have to be okay with it. For too long I was concerned with what others thought about me and how others perceived me because I desperately wanted others to like me, subconsciously believing that the approval of others defined my own worth. It doesn’t. No matter how many people like you in this world, if you don’t like yourself, you will be constantly looking for approval and praise that will never be enough. Everything you need is found within. As J. Cole said, “Love yourself, girl, or nobody will.”

 

 

 

This is your time to stumble. Gracefully.

You are allowed to make mistakes. You are allowed to fall down. Show yourself the same grace you show to other people, pick yourself up, forgive yourself, and move forward. By all means, do not stay on the ground. Admit your mistakes, learn from them, and grow from them. The only way to become better is through trial and error.

 

It’s okay not to be okay.

Let me repeat this. It’s okay not to be okay. We get so focused on the goal or hitting every mark that we forget to actually live. You are a human being. It’s okay to feel grief, loss, sadness, anger, frustration, regret, resentment, but you just can’t live in it. Allow yourself a good cry every once in awhile and give yourself the space to process pain and properly grieve it. If you don’t allow yourself that time, it has the potential to fester until it becomes unbearably uncomfortable and crippling.  Don’t reject your emotions and well-being to keep pressing through. Nothing else in your life will work effectively if you don’t take the time to heal.

Don’t forget to take time for you. Don’t forget the things you once loved to do.

When we enter adult life, we throw all of our focus into climbing the career ladder. We spend our free time at networking events trying to meet people who can connect us to higher places, but not enough time doing the things we used to love. Don’t give up on your passions, even if they aren’t necessarily aligned with your career goals. Stop glorifying being busy. You are never too busy for the things you strive to make time for. If you were involved in organizations on campus, chances are you’re going to feel a void when and if you have to give those organizations up. Join an alumni association, take dance classes, join a recreational league, or volunteer in your local community. It will give a well-roundedness and wholeness to your life.

 

It’s time to let go of dead weight.

If there’s a friendship, relationship, or obligation you have that you feel is weighing you down, it’s time to get rid of it. If it no longer serves a purpose in your life, then it doesn’t deserve a space there. We have little energy to begin with as we grow older and tire more quickly, and we have to split that energy between commitments. Life is too short and too busy to give energy to negativity and external draining entities.

 

Stop apologizing.

I apologize for everything, especially things I didn’t do or things that don’t need an apology. This is a way of giving up power. If you do something wrong, of course, swallow your pride and apologize, but don’t apologize for taking up space. Don’t apologize when someone else elbows you on the metro. Don’t apologize when you have a huge deadline the next day and someone asks for a work-related favor. You do not owe anything to anyone. ‘No’ is a full sentence. Period. Hard stop. Stop apologizing for who and everything you are.

 

Stop comparing yourself. Define your own success.

As friends and acquaintances at home are working full-time, putting down payments on houses, getting married, and starting what society classifies as ‘adult life’, I find myself scrolling through my Facebook timeline and my Instagram feed wondering when it’s going to be my turn. When do I get to be an adult? When do I get to walk down the aisle in a fancy dress? When do I get to pay bills? For some, that is their success. I have to remind myself that I’ve already arrived. I’m working towards my master’s degree, shaking a few hands along the way, and living in minimal debt with no responsibility but to work hard and enjoy the rollercoaster I’m on. That’s my success. 

 

As I tweeted my sentiments the other day,”We’re all so focused on finding our ‘thing’ or being the next big thing. Slow down & let the universe flow that energy to you. Too much chasing, not enough living. Chasing dreams, opportunities, friendships, & relationships. It’s time to appreciate, not chase.”

Post-grad life is sure as heck scary, but it’s all about the experience. It’s about growth, exploration, love, and flourishing. Don’t take any minute for granted.

 

 

 

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