Lessons from Life After College

Ahhh college….those were the days…four carefree years of discovering yourself. It’s a life of semi-independence (I can’t be the only one who’d go home and raid my parents’ pantry), where you’re poor but okay with it (and signing up for student orgs just for free food), while studying hard to prepare yourself for your future career (unless you have 8am class because whose brain works that early?).

Now that I’m almost three years out from graduation, I have a pretty good grasp on my post-college life. In fact, I love it and wouldn’t go back. But it wasn’t easy adjusting at first!  Looking back on that transition period into “real adulthood,” times were thrilling, scary, and surprising all at the same time. A little uneasiness about navigating life after college is inevitable. After all, you’re forced into many new responsibilities and you have to learn how to deal with them all in a relatively short period of time!

But hey, I took one thing at a time and I survived.  I learned how to make new friends in the real world. I moved to a different state. I dealt with a long-distance relationship. I chose my own health insurance plans.  I made myself figure out what the heck a 401K is all about. I bought my first home.

While the transition to post-college life was a period of immense growth for me, I wish there were some things I would have known to expect. Maybe knowing these things ahead of time could have saved me some feelings of disappointment, stress, and discouragement that resulted from unrealistic expectations of this shiny new life of independence.

No matter what life stage you currently associate with, I hope that sharing my personal experiences and lessons with you will make you feel like you won’t be/aren’t/weren’t the only one going through the stresses of transitioning to post-college life. I’ve summed up some of the biggest lessons I learned in five pieces of advice below!

 Making new friendships (and maintaining older ones) will take effort

I don’t think this one will surprise anyone. When you’re in school, you’re constantly given the opportunity (and sometimes even forced to) forge relationships with like-minded peers. Now you have to take the initiative to leave your cozy apartment and your bff, Netflix to spend time with people you don’t really know in the hopes that you’ll like these strangers and they’ll become your friends.  

After I graduated, I moved from Minneapolis to Milwaukee where I knew one friend, probably two acquaintances, and a handful of semi-acquaintances. (Yes, semi-acquaintances – those whose names I knew, but not much else.) It wasn’t until I took the initiative to open myself up to others -even those that already had their own solid friend group- and went on many friend dates before I felt like I had a comfortable group of friends to lean on.

One of those semi acquaintances? Her name is Jamie. We bumped into each other at the cafeteria microwaves at work one day and awkwardly said hi, acknowledging that we kind of knew of each other. After making small talk while our lunches were heating up, she invited me to go to trivia night at a local bar that week. Lazy Jenn would have made up an excuse to stay home. But desperate-for-new-friends-and-open-to-new-people Jenn decided to go. Jamie is now one of my best friends and actually played a key role in inspiring me to start this blog!

So if I barely knew anyone in Milwaukee, where were all my friends before I moved? They are scattered all over the country! One  friend is even out of the country in the Peace Corps! Even though I was making amazing new friends in Milwaukee, I found that losing touch with some of my closest friends made me really sad. Maintaining long-distance friendships takes effort! I was horrible at remembering to reach out to those that were far away, but I’ve definitely gotten better at doing so in the past few years. Thank goodness for Facetime.

Inevitably, some friends haven’t quite been able to make the time – but that’s okay. Focus on those who value your relationship as much as you do, and who will take the time out of their day to connect with you, even when it’s not always convenient to do so.

Your shiny new full- time job might not be what you expected

I graduated from a business school where I felt like everyone’s post-college dream was to snag a full time job with a great corporate name. We spent four years perfecting our resumes, cover letter writing skills, and interviewing abilities to achieve this shiny goal in the distance that everyone was striving for.  But then I graduated and started at said corporate job and I was disappointed. All these big-picture marketing ideas I learned about in class and all the business strategies I had written up for case studies were decisions left for executives and VPs – not the eager entry level associate that had to google what her job title meant. (I did actually have to do that.)

As someone who was always a hard working student and a go-getter, I naively thought that I would start doing amazing things right away that would greatly impact my company. What I didn’t realize is that it would take a great deal of time and experience before I could truly feel impactful in my work. Learning about marketing in class gave me a solid knowledge base, but was nothing like doing real work at a corporation. I love my job now, but it took months of a learning curve, a whole lot of work, and solid experience under my belt before I got there…which leads me to my next lesson…

Developing your career will take a lot of work

Were you valedictorian in high school? Were you always at the top of the curve in college? President of your student org? These achievements looked great on your resume and perhaps helped you get you the job out of college, but now it doesn’t matter. You are fresh meat at your new company and you will be working with colleagues who have been in the workforce longer and know the industry better.

You are not going to get a promotion at your job because you got straight A’s in college. Day one of your job is when you start taking the right steps to developing your career and gaining visibility to those who will promote you. Take some time to absorb and learn from others. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you a while to learn the ropes. Translating text book knowledge to real world experience is going to take time! Create good relationships with those around you, find a mentor and ALWAYS ask questions if you don’t understand something.

You’re finally making money – spend and save wisely

After starting your first full time job after college, it’s easy to get caught up in the satisfaction of having a constant flow of direct deposits into your bank account. When I got my first corporate pay check, I was elated! Time to buy all the shoes and purses I could never afford, right?! Wrong.

I’m all for treating yourself – you worked hard to get this job and if you want to indulge in a couple purchases here and there I think it’s well deserved! But look at the big picture here. Your list of responsibilities and expenses will only start to grow with time. Start saving as much of your paycheck as you can before your lists of bills continues to get longer.

Research the best ways to invest your money! Leaving it in your bank’s savings account is a good way to start building up your savings, but it won’t yield a return. 401Ks, stock portfolios, and Roth IRAs may sound daunting but they’ll set you up for a solid financial future if you can afford to contribute. Do your research to find out what investment opportunities are best for you! Talk to a financial advisor! This is definitely still something I’m, admittedly, still working on.

Your lifestyle may feel monotonous – don’t let it!

Wake up. Go to work in traffic. Sit at a desk for 8 hours. Drive back home in traffic. Work out. Make dinner. Sleep. At times, I felt like I was a robot stuck in the monotonous life of a forty hour work week. But this boring, ritualistic lifestyle is definitely avoidable!  Finding hobbies and passions outside of your job will keep you going.

I was heavily involved in Chinese dance back at home in Minnesota.  When I moved to Milwaukee, I found a local Chinese cultural organization on Google. I got in touch with the right contact and now teach Chinese dance twice a week! Being busy may seem like a burden at first, but I promise you will start to embrace having purpose outside of work. Blogging is a new hobby of mine that has definitely revitalized my life when I felt like my lifestyle was becoming monotonous again!

Those college days sure were fun, but I’m happy with where I am in my life right here, right now. But I think that understanding that some of my stressors were normal – not happening to just me – could have made me worry less and instead channel that energy into productive actions.

I fully acknowledge that these experiences are very personal and everyone else’s lessons and experiences may differ from mine. I’m just here to today to share what I learned, totally acknowledging that they may or may not apply to you! If you have any experiences that differ from mine, or any lessons that I didn’t include here, I’d love to hear them! What do you think? Did I miss any?

P.S. These photos were taken in Phuket! I’m sure you guessed they weren’t taken in Milwaukee. Check out some of my travel posts if you haven’t already!

Text pic

top: American Eagle (other colors)
shorts: Gap – old (similar)
heels: Qupid (same)
sunglasses: Merona (similar)

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29 Replies to “Lessons from Life After College”

  1. Thanks for sharing your journey with us. So young yet full of insight! A true inspiration. 💖

    1. So sweet of you to say! Thanks for reading! <3

  2. My college years at UCLA living on campus were some of the best of my life. I got married a week after I graduated, and our apartment was only a few miles from campus, so it was easier to stay in touch with many friends who were doing graduate work. Things got tougher when my husband graduated and we moved to Long Beach. We did have some family and friends here, but we didn’t see anyone we knew from the past except family very often. We were doing graduate work at a different school and knew hardly anyone there, but I did meet a few people in my classes I later worked with. You’ve written a helpful article here for those currently making or looking toward the transition from college to real life.

    1. Thanks, Barbara! So glad you shared your story about moving and having to make new friends. It’s not always easy!

  3. This is such a great post! I definitely feel like I’m still trying to get my life together, but I would’ve have loved to hear all of these things after graduation. Awesome that you’re still involved with Chinese Dance 🙂

    1. Aren’t we all? 🙂 And yes! Didn’t want to give up Chinese dance! 🙂

  4. The friends one…yes!

    Another important thing to remember and realize it’s okay is that you might not necessarily want to to what you went to school for forever, which I know can be scary. Lol ….The more people I meet the more I realize that everyone else is confused, too!

    1. YES! That is such a good point. Your college major totally doesn’t have to dictate what you do after college. I have many friends that went a completely different route and love their life so much more than if they simply followed the path of what they were “supposed” to do. It just happened to work out for me that I studied marketing and I enjoy my job in digital marketing!

  5. Such an awesome post, Jenn. Thanks for sharing – it’s really nice getting to know you a little bit more through your posts. I feel like you hit most of the points. My college experience was a little different, as I had a toddler already, so I was plenty busy. It taught me a lot though, especially things like adulthood isn’t what you thought it was going to be like, haha!

    Ashlynn | http://thecrimsoncardigan.com

    1. Such a good point – everyone’s experience is different! I definitely would have had some different lessons to share if I had a toddler. But regardless, adulthood can bring some surprises for everyone! Thanks for reading, Ashlynn! <3

  6. I’m approaching 30 and I am now learning that my corporate job isn’t all that I thought it was. So much politics! It’s starting to make me jaded by the whole system so I am hoping this blogging game works out haha

    1. Good luck on your blogging endeavors! Gotta do what you love!

  7. Oh my god I am so glad you posted this! I am a very recent grad and my life sometimes feels SO monotonous. I sit in traffic some days like … Could i just pack up and move to Hawaii? Lol, ok I’m being dramatic but I do feel like I’ve needed to spice it up. I got into the swing of a new workout class and I think blogging has helped spice things up too!! xx


    1. Yay! So glad you could relate. I totally feel the same way sometimes….let’s move to Hawaii together! 🙂

  8. This is such a great article! Very well written. I really liked the tip about finding hobbies outside of work. A 40 hour work week can get so boring, but it helps if you have something else to look forward to! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Love this so much! I’m out of grad school now, but still transitioning. It’s definitely stressful, but I can finally start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel haha. Congrats on becoming an actual adult and buying a house and whatnot!

    1. Thank you! Sometimes I’m still denial that I’m an “actual adult.” But yes, that transition takes a while! Thanks for reading. <3

  10. I graduated college a year ago and unfortunately I’m still struggling to find a job. Your post was really helpful and something I’ll think about once I do land that job 🙂

  11. You are very wise with your words, after college it can be overwhelming, but you have got it!

  12. I was feeling about the same way as you three years out of college. It just keeps getting better though! This is my 10 year from high school and since the time I graduated college and grad school everything has changed so much but is so much better now than it ever has been. 🙂

  13. I absolutely loved reading this! You make such great points throughout this entire post. Maintaining and finding new friends is so difficult. The only way I have met new people lately is through work ha ha! Saving is so important too. Thank you for sharing ♥

  14. I felt the exact same way the couple years right after my graduation! Love your tips and suggestions!

  15. This outfit is amazing!

  16. This outfit is amazing!

  17. Ugh as a post graduate by almost a year this spoke to me like crazy. The post graduate life has been so difficult but your layout of the lessons you’ve learned gives me hope!

  18. I can totally relate to all of these! Glad you’ve learned so much – blogging is definitely a great way to mix things up 🙂

    xx, Amy

  19. This is so relatable! It’s amazing how much getting out of your comfort zone makes you grow. Thank God for those microwaves, amiright?!

  20. I love this post SO MUCH!!! I relate to everything. I just moved and don’t know ANYONE. We have no friends or family nearby, and it gets lonely. I really need to make time to join organizations or find new friends, but I’m working two jobs, 50-60 hours a week and I feel like I don’t have time! But it’s so important to have that group to lean on, like you said. And yes – life can get monotonous, but finding something (like teaching Chinese dance) that you’re passionate about can break that up. Loved all these tips!

    1. It’s tough moving to a new city and having to start fresh with making new friends! It will take time, but as long as you make the effort to open up to others, you’ll start connecting with people soon! And hey, you can make long distance friendships work too when you’re feeling lonely! Thanks for reading, Allie! <3

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