Life after graduation

Navigating Life After College: Tips From a 25-Year-Old

A class of 2017 grad shares his advice for combatting post-graduation anxiety.

Editor’s note: The following essay was contributed by Lute Moss, a sales development representative on Handshake’s Employer team. To learn more about life as a Handshake SDR, check out this post!

Forget the “Sunday Scaries”—not knowing what comes after graduation can feel like the most nerve-wracking moment of all. Like many graduating students, I had no idea what my future held when I received my diploma only a few years ago.

Getting paid to do what you love doesn’t just magically happen. There are lessons you have to learn. There are obstacles you have to overcome. But guess what? Everything will be okay! How do I know? Well, I’ve gone through the ringer and come out the other side. (Not unscathed of course… but that’s the fun part!) Here are five suggestions, based on lessons I’ve learned, for navigating your way through those first few years after college. 

1. Explore 

Explore people, places, opportunities, and anything else you deem worthy of exploration. Use the uneasiness of not knowing your path yet to explore as many options as possible. Some people know exactly what they want to do from a young age, but if you’re like me, it’s not always that easy. Use this time as an opportunity to discover your likes, your dislikes, and people you do and don’t enjoy spending time with. It’s a great time to discover areas where you truly excel, and identify other things that you might need to work on. 

College is an amazing time in your life. Many people view it as the first time you truly have the ability to make your own decisions. However, I’d argue the first few years out of school is even more freeing. Why? College is structured, while post-grad life is not. You can learn to thrive in this environment by exploring as much as you can, as often as possible. 

2. Define what success means for you 

Trust me: this is not as straightforward as it sounds. Success means different things for different people. What’s important to you? 50 years from now, who do you want to be?

Before you define what success means for you, consider defining your value system. Knowing your values — a system of principles based on what is most important to you, and what is least important — is critical when understanding what you want out of life. Don’t overestimate the amount of time you have to figure this out; life starts now, and trust me, it goes by fast. 

3. Read everything

Read short books. Read long books. Read books about history. Read books about fantasy. Read The Defining Decade by Meg Jay. Read news articles. Choose a random book, from a random bookstore, from a random part of town, and read it.

If I were to give a single piece of advice to any young twenty-something, it would be to get into the habit of reading as often as possible.

It’s hard to read for pleasure when you’re in school because there’s always another assignment waiting in the wings, or a test to study for, or some task to check off some list while working towards your degree. But don’t let the years of school-mandated textbooks distract you from continuing your self-education after college! The more you know, the more you’ll grow. 

4. Get off Facebook for a while 

While you’re at it, get off Instagram and Snapchat for a while too. Everyone needs an occasional break from social media, and taking that break right after finishing college is the perfect time. Trying to navigate your own life’s challenges and goals as a young professional is difficult enough without spending time looking at your peers’  highlight reels; comparison can hinder your own self-discovery period. 

There’s no denying that social media is an amazing tool to communicate with the world—it’s how you can build your own digital brand, communicate with potential employers, and more. So if you can’t go cold turkey, simply be mindful of the way you’re using social media. Scrolling through TikTok is fun until you realize you’ve seen the same video four times and wasted hours of your life. (Trust me… I have firsthand experience with this!)

5. Be intentional 

The biggest mistake I made coming out of college was not being intentional about what I was doing, or considering why I was doing it. Do you want to own your own business one day? Great! Use Handshake’s network of employers to find somewhere to work that will teach you skills applicable to that goal. How about having a family at some point? Amazing. Now is a great time to start making responsible financial decisions, and thinking about where you might see yourself living in the future.

In your early 20s, you’re not expected to have life all figured out—but that doesn’t mean you can’t be purposeful about what you do. There are many ways to be intentional, but for me it meant writing down goals: yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals. This helped me become purposeful about paving a path for myself to become successful. Setting measurable goals can help motivate you when you wake up every morning. Try it! You might just find that life after college becomes easier to navigate when you do.