What You’ll Learn Right Out Of College That Will Stay With You For The Rest Of Your Life

4/16/14 11:36AM EST

What Youll Learn Right Out Of College That Will Stay With You For The Rest Of Your Life What Youll Learn Right Out Of College That Will Stay With You For The Rest Of Your Life

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Most people say that they experienced the best four years of their lives in college. The mistakes, the friends, the loves, the hangovers, all those life lessons. It’s all apart of an irreplaceable experience that you’ll feel like nothing can top, but often it’s the years immediately following college that will have more of an impact on the rest of your life. What happens when the security blanket is stripped away and you’re left to fend for yourself in the big, scary world? If you thought college was a doozy, wait until you’ve walked the stage. Life is now in session.

Living Away From Your Parents Is NOT Living On Your Own

The first time I left for college, I thought for sure I was about to learn the life lessons of being an adult. I mean, making sure I woke up in time for my 8:00 a.m classes, making sure I ate my three meals a day, making sure I balanced chores like laundry, cleaning, and homework — this was all my responsibility now. Yeah, “living on my own” was totally going to be such an eye-opener in college.

Yeah…RIGHT. It wasn’t long after my parents dropped me off at the dorms that I realized college was more like a slumber party at a friend’s place than life in the scary world. I was already perfectly capable to wake up for class, and even then my mom still insisted on being my back-up alarm clock for the first six months to make sure I, indeed, was making it to my classes. As far as “feeding myself” went, it probably couldn’t have been easier if my mom was there to spoonfeed me every bite. Between the endless rounds of made-to-order meals in a wide array of university cafeterias, I had more than one off-campus restaurant to choose from and a microwave in my dorm for quick, heat-and-eat meals. Sure, no one was making sure I ate all my fruits and veggies, but the Freshman 15 wasn’t just a disease everyone happened to catch. Food was readily available. It literally wasn’t until I graduated and moved into a place that I felt like someone slapped me in the face and said, “Hey, wake the hell up. You’re living on your own — buy some damn produce and make use of a pan.” It wasn’t until my daily routine turned into maintaining a balance between a 9-to-5, the gym, real meals and the pure evil of paying BILLS on time (for which there are actual consequences, not just the risk of getting your carefully selected class schedule dropped) that I understood what living on my own actually meant. If you didn’t wake up in the morning now, you didn’t get paid. If you didn’t get paid, you didn’t eat. If you didn’t eat, well — then you remembered how easy life was in college.

Doing Things By The Book Doesn’t Always Mean It Works

I can’t even count the number of people I knew in school who had a clear-cut idea of what their post-college plans were going to be. Some had their 10-year career plans practically laminated and framed because, well, they had done everything by the book and just knew how to proceed next to accomplish their life goals. Four years of college, another x number of years of grad school/nursing school/medical school and they’d be all set. Or maybe four years of college, a handful of internships and you’d find yourself in the perfect entry-level position to launch your career. Either way, all the planning was bound to bear you some fruit. But the number of people that actually followed through with their plans — or better yet, the number of people whose plans followed through with them was truly a disheartening reality at first. Instead of hearing news that things had all gone according to plan, I heard more stories of “…trying out plan B” or “…maybe taking a year off to travel first”.

Whereas school was always a testament to the theory that hard work, organization and playing by the rules meant achieving your set goals, the unstructured post-grad life proved entirely to be something else. Stepping off the stage into the real world means learning quickly that you might not enter the career you planned, be able to follow your carefully constructed plan down to a T, or always know what’s coming next. You also learn that Plan B should have its own Plan B because that’s the type of planning that actually comes in use after college.

Relationships Are Like Plants: They Need Nurturing Or They’ll Die

Sure, you may think you already know that relationships need maintaining because you fell out of touch with a lot of your high school friends when you started college, and you thought you’d NEVER forget about them, right? But you had the chance to visit with your high school friends every time you went home for break, so there was more than ample opportunity to at least maintain some ties there. If you didn’t, that was just your fault. You also considered your parents’ house home and were more than just a visitor when you went to see them, so assuming that you really know what it means to have to nurture old relationships is a bit pretentious. Even the friends you had in college were more than readily available to see. I mean what did you even do besides go to class for a few hours, log in some hours studying and then just exist in a microcosm of the outside world drinking and socializing with your friends 24/7? That’s just what college is. Maintaining friendships, keeping in touch with your family, meeting new people — these things are pretty much on autopilot — that is,  until you graduate.

It was my first year after college that I understood how much I had to work to keep meaningful relationships in my life. This was the first time in my life that I felt like I had become sensitive to the meticulous process of staying in touch or risking the loss of a relationship altogether. Some friendships withered away almost immediately; some people floated off to take their own places in life and had started new lives with new people in them — there was nothing to do about these relationships no matter how much I nurtured. Not all my relationships were like that though; some bloomed even more beautifully in this stage of life with the right amount of love and care from both parties. And then there was the matter of making new friends and making time to grow these relationships or even just trying to stay in touch with my parents — the people who had literally given me life and raised me. It was all an actual process, an actual activity that required my attention and devotion, and it’s just one of the invaluable that I didn’t learn until after “best four years of my life”.


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