I remember as I was preparing to graduate college I was digging around on the internet trying to find some thoughts from people on what life after college looks like. Many of those articles were overly cliché, and ultimately did not satisfy my yearning for information. I am writing about my current experiences in the hope that they will be useful to the next wave of students.
One of the major differences I noticed shortly after graduating was the change in my relationship with time. While in school, I lived on a weekly cycle. All classes repeated weekly, as did homework and projects. Exams came once every 3-4 weeks, and every semester I'd craft a new weekly schedule. I was usually juggling 4-5 classes while trying to maintain a social life, my health, and occasionally sleep. It was hard to plan more than one or two weeks ahead because random assignments were constantly being sprung on me, as well as various exams and other events that would completely demolish my entire plan for the week.
These days, I find that my thinking has shifted to the span of months, years, and even decades. It's perfectly possible for me to bump my tasks from April to August, and for this to have no effect on my schedule, happiness, or stress levels. I'm only dealing with one major project at work (compared to 5), and all the deadlines related to it assume a 40-50 hour workweek instead of 100+. I can make concrete plans about events that will happen a year or two from now, and those plans will in fact come to pass because I am truly in control of my time. Every once in a while I find myself exploring where I would like to be in a span of 5, 10, or even 15 years - thinking about career, family, and various travels. It's definitely a more relaxed and long range style of time management.
The most stark difference in my day to day is the incredible value I gain from having a routine. Unlike college, where your classes are all over the place, most jobs are reasonably predictable. I work from 10-6, give or take a few hours. This gives me a routine time to read in the mornings, time to work out in the evenings, and still get personal projects done between work and bedtime. My Thursdays and Fridays are people nights, and there is no guilt about unfinished work plaguing my mind while we are out.
In a sense, I also have less time than before - I can't skip work the way I could skip college classes. I can no longer stay up until 3am because I need to function at peak performance the next day. In the long run this will serve me well, by forcing me to normalize my melatonin cycles and give me better sleep, but right now it's a major struggle to go to bed at 10:30pm.
At the same time, I'm trying to find a balance regarding goal setting and accountability. At the end of 2015 I created a very ambitious outline of 2016, broken down into monthly sprints. Each month I had planned on reading a book, picking up a new skill, finishing a project and traveling to visit various friends. This was way over the top, and by April I found myself growing stressed because I was "falling behind" the expectations of past me. Once I realized the root of the problem I adjusted my plan for the year to be more reasonable. However, it's still a very high priority for me to create a reasonable schedule that will nonetheless keep pushing me to learn new skills, acquire knowledge and maintain connections. I know of too many people who seem to stagnate after graduation and stop growing. I refuse to ever let this happen to me.
I see a similar duality in my dealings with financial matters as well; the numbers are higher but less of it is mine to play with. On one hand, I now have a stable income that comes twice a month compared to having to stretch my summer earnings to last me a year. On the other hand, I now have to use those resources for long-term financial goals such as retirement, medical funds, and emergency funds.
I don't have too much of a dataset yet, but it does seem that the various articles about work friendships were right: it definitely takes much longer for a connection to develop. There's no bonding over common pain about homework and exams, and people generally live farther apart than they do in college. So far, I have yet to spend time with any of my coworkers outside of work hours. This isn't necessarily bad, just something to consider.
Given the above sentiments, it's all the more important to maintain the effort to stay in touch with your friends from college. There's a beautiful system that I use called the Trello Friends Game, which, as silly as it may seem, gives me a visual way to assess which of my friends I haven't pinged in a while. It's harder to reach a good level of interaction than I would have hoped; our schedules are very different, we are far away from each other and we also have fewer day-to-day events that we can discuss and bond over. However, I intend to make our friendships last, and to find a good level of interaction quality and frequency.
Your Life is Your Own
My most mind-blowing realization was that I'm now the most free I've ever been in my entire life. I finished 16 years of education, I am a legal adult with full rights, and I have my own source of income. My life is mine.
You will experience the same freedom. You can choose to disappear into Thailand if you so desire. You have no college counselors forced on you, and you're free to reject advice from parents if you so desire. At the end of the day your life is completely your own, and so is the responsibility for your success and failure. Those that you keep close will share in it, but you also have the power to cut out any negative influences.
I'm still exploring how I would like to structure my life now. I spend much of my time thinking about how to best stay close to those whom I love, and where I would like to take my current adventure. I'm done with college - it's time to build the world I wish to see!