My vision of life after college was a fairytale of cheerful coffee mornings and power meetings followed by clinking glasses with my coworkers during happy hour. After graduating last May and starting a full-time job, occasional days somewhat resembled my dream. More often, though, reality found me eating marshmallow fluff straight from the can as I watched Pride and Prejudice for the millionth time, freaking out over having no idea what I want to do with my life.
Besides the occasional break down, the summer months felt somewhat like any other summer. Between working, going to the beach on the weekends, and meeting my family for vacation, it seemed like nothing had really changed. Then September rolled around.
I felt myself growing increasingly anxious around mid-August. It felt as though something was coming up or an important date was fast approaching, but nothing was. I was consumed by a deep-seated need to prepare for something and found myself cleaning out my closet, throwing away old magazines, and rearranging my drawers, anything to make this feeling go away.
Something was off.
During Labor Day weekend, my Instagram feed flooded with “First weekend back at school!” photos from my friends in college and grad school. I felt like I was missing out.
Everyone is doing something with their lives, I thought. What about me?
It all came together in that moment: my life until this point revolved around learning. It started on a Monday in late August, took a month off around Christmas, then powered back through until June. This was always how it was.
After extensive debate, I came to the conclusion that signing up for the GRE and applying to graduate programs was not going to quench my nostalgic thirst to walk to school with orange leaves crunching underfoot and a backpack of brand new notebooks and pens behind me.
I learned I had to make this fresh-start feeling for myself.
Here are my “Avery-tested” tips on how to transition into your first autumn after college.
1. Establish a Routine
During school, my daily schedules would be packed and all over the place, but I had a weekly routine that kept me sane. I knew what to expect. Getting settled into a daily and weekly schedule helps me feel more established and motivated. Going into each week, I plan meals so I can grocery shop, decide where to fit in runs or trips to the gym, see when projects are due and mark down what meetings are when. To further that fresh start feeling, I buy a new planner with a September start date and a fresh set of felt-tip pens for color-coding to keep me on track.
2. Join a club or a team
One of the things I miss most from college are the extracurricular activities. I found leadership opportunities, fun events, and my best friends and future roommates in my sorority. Being a part of something bigger and sharing space with like-minded individuals is an opportunity to grow in community. That doesn’t have to end after college. Join a book club, a meetup group, running club, or even a kickball team. Meeting new friends and engaging with your passions on a weekly basis will keep you learning outside of a classroom.
3. Plan something to look forward to
Working the 9-5 grind Monday through Friday can get quite mundane. Planning something to look forward to in the future helps to stir up the excitement in the midst of a bad day. This plan could be something as big as saving up for a weekend trip to visit a friend, or as small as simply making a plan to try a new restaurant or local hike during the weekend. Call up a friend, make a date, and mark it on your calendar.
4. Quit the constant comparisons
I wrote to challenge the view on what it means to be happy a couple of weeks ago and was overwhelmed by the response: everyone could relate to just going around with their happy face on all the time. We get on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and see these picture-perfect lives of our friends and former classmates and think to ourselves, What am I doing wrong? How can I become successful/happy/so-dang-put-together? The reality is nobody is perfectly happy all the time. And if they think they have it all figured out at the ripe old age of 22, chances are they are lying.
I will be the first to admit that I for sure do not have it all together. My car keeps dying because I didn’t get its battery replaced when I was supposed to. I shrank my favorite shirt and managed to permanently stain another. I still call my mom to ask how to cook chicken, I want to write a novel but I don’t have a storyline, and my last batch of banana bread was actually really gross. But when I get online, in an effort to stay positive, I never post any of those realities. Social media allows us the freedom to edit our lives down to display only the best parts. So next time you’re having a bad day, call home, call a friend, go for a walk, or read a good book. But whatever you do, don’t get online.