Confessions of a college graduate

Liz BernsteinBy Liz Bernstein |

The fact is, I’m turning 26 in a couple of months and I still don’t feel like a grown up. Maybe it has something to do with my placement directly in the center of what has been lovingly called the “boomerang” generation. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve worked in university housing for the past six years and I still don’t know what it’s like to not share an apartment wall with college students.

Whatever happens to be keeping me young at heart, the latest Gargoyle article on the 10 things you need to know how to do before you graduate left me feeling like I have missed the boat on adulthood.

While I will never have all the answers, I did want to shed a little light on some things that I feel like I’ve picked up along the way since graduation.


It is way easier to do laundry than they make you think it is

During speech class my first year of college, I did an instructional speech on how to do laundry. Even then, I suspected something about how complicated everyone made laundry seem. All those mysterious buttons and washes and rinses and sorting apparatuses seemed wholly unnecessary.

So I have a secret for you: laundry is really freaking easy. Wash similar things together. If you’re not worried about colors bleeding or things getting linty, who cares how many loads you sort things into?! Here’s a hint: no one! I suspect that laundry is one of those things that humans of the grown-up persuasion complicate in order to make adulthood seem sinister. There is nothing more relaxing than sitting in your apartment and hearing the gentle swish of your delicates being rinsed by a magical machine that produces clean clothes. Laundry is a blessing, not a curse.

It’s okay to feel like you’re faking it

My first year of graduate school, I was doing some reading for a class and I came across something called the “imposter phenomenon.” Basically, it’s a nagging sensation that you are pretty certain you have no idea what you are doing, you’re somehow lying to everyone around you, and you are most certainly going to be found out as a fraud at any moment. When I read that, I almost burst into tears. It was like someone had looked into my brain, pulled out all the anxiety and gave it a name.

Whether you’re in graduate school, you’re working or you’re starting your family, at some point you’re going to stop and say to yourself, “Who in their right mind is letting me handle all this responsibility right now?” And you’re going to be pretty sure that one night, someone will show up at your door to take away your diploma and your adult card.

Let me assure you: that is most definitely not going to happen. Like it or not, you have responsibilities now, some of which you are much better at handling than you give yourself credit for. It’s alright to feel like you’re playing dress up a little bit and to figure out healthy ways to cope with that nagging anxiety. You’ll still get the job done and, chances are, you’re not the only one who feels like an imposter.

Stress is real. How you deal with it needs to change.

By a show of hands: who likes to sleep all day rather than deal with cleaning your apartment? Like it or not, there are both healthy and unhealthy ways to cope with stress. Every choice we make, whether good or bad, can give us either immediate relief or long-term relief. The truth of the matter is, the easiest ways to deal with stress are the ones that only give us passive and immediate relief. As we get older, our bodies get older too, and the ways we deal with stress start to have a greater effect on us than we realize.

Instead of keeping up with passive habits, it’s important to start putting in some new and more active ones. Taking a long walk or singing along with loud music will give you the same sense of release and freedom in the short term without the negative long-term consequences.

A wellness plan, or a well thought-out guide to how you want to handle stress even before it arises, can be a great place to start. Stick some stuff in there that makes you feel better and maybe some things that might benefit those around you as well.

It’s okay if money is still a mystery

So many people are going to be disappointed in me for admitting this, but: the language of finances and money management is still so foreign to me. I mean, if I can be frank, I think we’re setting ourselves up for financial illiteracy. I get a paycheck, which goes into my account electronically. From this account, I pay my bills electronically. I can check my transactions, make purchases, transfer between accounts, all with imaginary electronic cyber money which I never actual see or touch with my bare hands. It’s some sort of magic mystery entity that stays just out of reach enough that I both fear and revere it.

I’m not saying you should ignore money or your need for money. Money is useful and important. Stuff is expensive. Seriously. Groceries, drinks with friends, professional conferences, business attire, new socks.

There seems to be no end to the amount of money I have to spend every day. And I know that I need to start getting better about savings and retirement funds and paying off student loans, but I think it’s okay if I’m still a little clueless on the ins and outs. As long as I admit it and as for the help that I need, which leads me to my next point.

Asking for help is no longer an embarrassment – it’s required

It used to be a cute phrase that I would use to set me apart from other candidates during interviews – “I’m not afraid to ask questions or ask for help when I need it.” I learned very quickly after graduation that the correct response from my interviewers should have been – “You have no idea what you’re doing. I hope you ask some questions!”

This is not to invalidate the hard work you have done or the qualifications you are walking into the world with. On the contrary, this should encourage you to add one more talent to your repertoire of skills: the ability to be humble.

Being prideful is one of those things that feels strong and looks strong, but doesn’t really gain you any friends or experiences. Collaboration and cooperation are two of the biggest skills you should be developing when you begin your life after college. Remember when your professors said that group projects simulated real life? Well, they were right. Except now no one gets a grade and there’s no group feedback form. The only way you’re going to get anything done is to ask for help from those around you and accept it in stride.

An attitude of gratitude is your best accessory

I have a confession to make: I never sent the thank you letters out after my Bat Mitzvah. I started to write them, but I got bored and distracted and I never finished them. Not a single one. Not even my grandma got a thank you card. This is a fact that my mom will never let me forget as long as I live (it’s been 13 years) and a fact that has haunted me into adulthood.

Gratitude is something that I feel very deeply for those around me. I’m beyond stoked when people show care for me in some way and want to include me in their lives. Outward declarations of gratitude, however, are not something I’ve ever been very good at.

As I’ve gone on in my studies of counseling, I’ve learned more about how gratitude develops resiliency, cuts through barriers of communication and depression, and connects and builds relationships.

Gratitude is one of those easy, fluffy, simple things that has such an enormous impact on your life and the lives of those around you. Not to mention, gratitude can open doors in the arena of networking and job searching. Gratitude is like a bridge that you have to build between you and another person over a huge river. Once that bridge is built, it’s pretty much going to withstand anything. But if you never build the bridge in the first place, it’s going to be twice as difficult to ever cross over that bridge again. Boom. Metaphors.

FOMO (fear of missing out) is strong. And you are stronger.

There have been many times during my few years after college that I have conclusively decided to delete my Facebook. How many times have I actually deleted it? Exactly zero. The fact is: I’m terrified of missing out on something important. You’ve heard it before, I’m sure, but our generation is just inundated by information. This person is getting married, that couple is having a baby, those guys are having a party, this work function is coming up, that paper is due in a week. There is no end to the torrent of important facts lobbying for our attention at any given moment.

With so many friends from college heading in so many different directions, it can be so difficult to feel like you’re on the right path. In counseling, there is a theory that having too many options actually makes us unhappier. It’s not that variety isn’t the spice of life, but seeing other options makes us sure that we’re always making the wrong choices.

If I could give you one piece of advice: turn off the chatter. Stop watching other people for a second and a half and assess whether or not you feel like you’re in the right spot. If you still can’t figure it out, ask a handful of people who you trust the most what they think. Then make a decision and stick with it. You can always choose a different path later on, but to move forward at all, you have to be on any path first.


Your dreams are great and they will probably surprise you

I’m just full of true confessions, so here goes: I left college with a very vague (see: non-existent) idea of what my “goals for the future” were. I was marginally sure that I was going to end up writing plays and acting on the side, but I started studying counseling because I enjoyed it and it felt more practical.

Two and half years later, I’m pretty sure that “life goals” are one of those fallacies of adulthood stirred up to intimidate and elude, but I’m starting to think that I have a better idea of what it might actually feel like to have them.

I think goals suffer from the same fate as that FOMO fueled unhappiness that comes from having too many choices. What if I choose a life goal and I end up hating it? What if I never make any money and I can’t pay off my student loans? What if I find a job where I can never wear jeans, how will I possibly survive?! Just take a deep breath.

When take a moment to sit for a second, and begin to quietly take in your day, you’ll start to parse out the things that bring you joy. Once you put names on those feelings, you’ll figure the directions that bring you closer to those joyful experiences time and time again. You’ll start to figure out those little lights at the end of the tunnel. Whether that light is something artistic, something physical, or even something as simple as having a conversation with your friend, one of those things will incite in you a dream that will take you so much further than you can imagine.

Each twist, turn, or upset will bring you closer to discovering who you really are and what makes you tick. Be open to that growth and those changes, your willingness to explore will make the journey itself so much more enjoyable.


And finally: You’re totally awesome just the way you are

I’m not kidding. I know that we give this philosophy a lot of lip-service, but I still think it’s worth revisiting. You are great. Everything about you. All of your quirks and those books you love and the fact that you get a kick out of doing research or sing way too loud and slightly off key. The fact that you really love sunsets, but hate the taste of bananas. Everything about that is just fine. If your time in college is a time when you find yourself, then life after college is the time when you realize that the self you found is a pretty cool person.

You can accomplish wonderful and fascinating things. You can challenge yourself and come out on the other end stronger than you were before. You’re able to recognize toxic versus healthy relationships. You have a sense of style that’s all your own. Maybe you met the love of your life and you’re finally realizing just how amazing your lives can be together. Maybe you didn’t, and you’re realizing that fostering a relationship with yourself is just as important. Whatever it is that you discovered in college, it just feels more comfortable and manageable after college. You’re going to be just fine, my friends.


Liz Bernstein is an alumna of Flagler College, class or 2012. She is currently in her final year of graduate school at the University of Central Florida, studying Mental Health Counseling. In the future, Liz hopes to be happy and seek meaning through helping other people discover their own paths in life. Liz loves to write and was starting to feel a little past her prime, so she used this article as some form of personal therapy. She also thinks it’s important to point out that there is no “Adulthood Card” and if there was, hers would have been taken away a long time ago.

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