I would be graduating with you if I had stayed in school.
If I had "just toughed it out", I would be walking across that same stage as you do. But I chose a different path. If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I didn't enjoy most of my time in school.
Although I met some amazing people and a few of my life-long friends, I felt like I was being held back. Like my potential was being limited by General Education courses, thousands of tuition dollars, 40 hours of classwork a week, and the flawed grading system punching me in my self-esteem.
And so I watch all of you walking across the stage ready to move on to the real world.
I don't watch in envy and regret, rather, I feel calm. I'm exactly where I need to be. I feel free of the idea that life moves in stages that we must go through them because someone else told us to. I'm okay with being a 22-year-old and "supposed" to graduate, but just choosing not to. Maybe the biggest thing about college I realized was that halfway through it, it wasn't the value of the degree that made me want to stay, rather it was FOMO (feeling of missing out).
But I definitely knew I wanted out, and so I left school to pursue work and mentorship.
I finally had a taste of the real world I wanted so much to join.
And it was a crazy experience. Here are some things I learned:
1. There is no timeline.
Graduation may signal a change in your life, but the greatest changes in life don't happen here. Big changes in your life are made through taking risks on who you think you are. These changes are quiet.
It takes screwing up at work, learning about the things you want to learn about at the right time, and constant interaction with people and the things around you.
If you have a job right after graduation that's great. If you don't, then that's okay too. But in both of these situations, you have to follow the advice above. In the same way that you felt learning more gave you more progress in school, the secret to keeping yourself motivated in the real world is constant learning -- but also a lot of creation along the way.
Learning without working results in stressful contemplation about the future. Working without learning results in stagnation and hopelessness.
Learning and working together results in mastery, which leads to enjoyment and passion development.
Doing these 2 things is how you create the real timeline of your life.
2. A large portion of your college friends will forget about you.
They will be too distracted with college or work stimuli. They may be somewhere 20+ miles away from you.
Either way, it's no one's fault in particular, but the natural course of events that happen is that one person will say "we'll catch up" or "keep me updated" and neither person updates the other. It takes two to tango and you have to bear responsibility for keeping your relationships in tact.
School may have allowed you to be lazy and just see everyone on a whim, but in the real world -- good friendships are scarce.
3. Life is uncertain.
A “perfect" experience is not guaranteed. It can’t be. Did I plan to be fired at my first startup job? Hell no. But I did, and it adds an interesting layer to my story.
Some people are so concerned with developing the perfect “college story” — the right clubs, fraternities, and grades to get — but their stories are so significantly less moving than the person who experienced massive amounts of uncertainty and pushed through it all.
I didn't plan my story and yet here I am. Still alive, finishing my current work contract this week, and $0 in debt from my whole year.
How could I have known that over the course of my year without school, I would end up:
- Working closely with the founders of 3 different startups
- Developing my sales, marketing, and bullshit-handling skills
- Re-discovering my inner creative and love for filming and photography
I’m going to translate all of these things into my next venture — starting a creative marketing agency. More bricks need to be laid but I’m comfortable with my ability to figure it out.
That’s the life you have to accept as a new graduate. Take uncertainty and run with it. Accept that you’ll eat shit here and there. Accept that it won’t hurt you permanently. And accept the fact that the path to a life that you want is not sunshine and rainbows all the time, but ultimately it’s worth it.
And remember to keep yourself sane by expressing your frustrations with a mentor or friend that you know can give you constructive feedback. You aren't that special ;) there is always someone who is going/has gone through the exact same thing as you.
So good luck to all my friends who are graduating!
You are going to kick ass.