4 Things You Should Know About Life After College

by Ashley Wirgau

Remember how we all just couldn’t wait to grow up? We dreamt about where we would live, the jobs we would have, the oh-so-perfect people we would marry. We told our parents we were counting the days until we could move out and make decisions on our own. “I can take care of myself, you know!”

Such silly, misguided souls. Turns out, some of those decisions are actually really hard, and who wants to take care of themselves all the time? Why did we ever think this was going to be fun?

The truth about life after college is that it isn’t always fun, but it can be really rewarding. You get the privilege of watching your college-self rise to the occasion and become your actual self. It’s not always pretty, though. The journey is riddled with a few bumps, so here are some hard truths for you eager grads to swallow before venturing out on your own:

1. Your first “real” job will not be your dream job.

Just accept it. For almost all of us, this is just how it is. There is an interesting conundrum that happens when you head out into the workforce with your shiny resume and brand-new suit, the employers want experience…and you don’t have any. You need them to give you the job to build the experience that they say you already need in order to get the job. It is a frustrating irony that will most likely place you somewhere near the bottom of the corporate ladder for a while.

But here’s the thing: it’s okay. It happens to the best of us. Just find your power suit, ace your resume and get yourself on that ladder somewhere, even if it’s the very last rung. You have plenty of time to climb.

2. Nobody is handing out gold stars.

You might be the first one in and the last one out of the office. You might even be the smartest and most qualified employee the company has ever had, but don’t expect a trophy or (depending on your boss) even a pat on the back. Showing up, doing your best – it’s your job. They give you cash money to do the things they hired you to do, so while it’s admirable you are doing them so well, that was kind of the point.

Still desperately seeking positive reinforcement? Find a job with bonus potential for that extra encouragement. Dollar signs are more useful than gold stars anyways; gold stars can’t buy houses. And while we’re on the subject…

3. Buying a house does not happen overnight.

As much as we’d love to jump right into that first house and skip the apartment phase altogether, for many grads, this is just not an option. Houses don’t come cheap (nor do college degrees) so be patient with yourself. Spend the first couple years of adulthood paying down debt and squirreling away surplus funds for that future down payment. Really? You have to wait years? Well, it all depends on what you can actually afford and how lavish a property you intend to buy.

Much like your first job, your first house will likely not be your dream house, but don’t despair, you’ll get there someday! And while twenty percent is relatively standard for a mortgage, there are lots of options to help you land that first home a little faster, provided you can concede it doesn’t have to be the dream version.

4. It doesn’t always unfold in the order it’s “supposed” to.

We’ve been told (almost since birth) that there is a pre-determined order to our lives. We go to school, we get a job, we get married, we buy a house, we have kids. The problem is – things don’t always happen in this exact sequence, and when they don’t, it sends some of us into a complete tailspin. Don’t stress if these benchmarks don’t all fall in line or if you skip some of them entirely. Our lives are not all meant to look the same.

Erase the notion of any kind of “right” order from your mind and learn to take things as they come. This will save you a pricey do-over when you end up marrying that leach of a boyfriend who’s still hanging around after college, the one who landed on your futon as soon as you landed that great new job. Ditch him and buy a house on your own. Imagine the money you’ll have for a down payment once you quit supporting him and his expensive video game habit. Your perfect person is waiting somewhere along your path, and we all know it’s not the guy eating Doritos off your couch.

This “life after college” thing isn’t always fun, it’s true, but adulthood really can be all it’s cracked up to be once you accept the (sometimes) harsh realities it brings and just enjoy the ride. The path from crazy college co-ed to savvy self-actualized adult isn’t necessarily the smoothest road to travel, but it’s sure to be a worthwhile journey.

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