A Letter to My Sister, on the Eve of her Graduation

K—

I cannot fathom how we’re actually here. The big day is finally upon us. Tomorrow, you will cross the stage, accept your diploma and move your tassel from right to left. You will be a college graduate. And I am so looking forward to cheer myself hoarse as I watch you bask in the moment that is a culmination of your four years’ hard work.

But before that happens, I feel it is my duty as an older sister to impart some wisdom, bits and pieces I’ve picked up from my few years as a post-graduate that might give you some reassurance as you take your first steps into the “real world.”

I know for you, right now is the scariest part. The era of knowing where you’re going is over. Up until now, you’ve followed a simple guideline for how your early life should unfold. Go to school. Get good grades. Get involved. Make friends. Graduate. Repeat through high school, then in college. You knew what was expected of you, so as long as you put the effort in, you were pretty much golden.

But now you’re standing on the precipice of the great unknown. There’s no plan for what’s supposed to happen now. Generally speaking, the goal now is to survive. I joked when I graduated that my only hope was that I wouldn’t be homeless, but honestly, the major concern for all of us as adults is to be able to live comfortably, preferably in a structure with sturdy walls and with the ability to feed and cloth ourselves and not drown in our college debt. There’s not safety net between you and all the things our parents once provided for us, and the thought of doing it all for yourself is daunting.

Luckily for you, you have a job, so your post-grad anxieties are one shade lighter than those of your unemployed classmates (It’s all right, unemployed members of the Class of 2018; I, too, was there at your age). As of now, you know you have a place where the money that will feed/cloth/shelter you will come from. That being said, it will be easy to get caught up in your new job. You’re green and hungry to prove yourself to your new peers. You’ll want to start earning that money, so you can afford being an adult, which is way more expensive than the dramedies on the CW would have you believe.

When that stresses you out, remember that as long as you maintain your work ethic, the money will come (and I say this as someone who has been funemployed multiple times). In my early days of my LA life, I was afraid to spend money on anything, worried that a single purchase might break the bank. But I continued to work, and the money found its way back into my account. As our resident spender, you may have to be a little more mindful with your money, but don’t turn down every experience just to save a few more dollars.

Also, while focusing your energy on your job may ground you in the nebulousness that is post-grad adulthood, there’s an Amy Poehler quote I want you to remember:

Your career won’t take care of you. It won’t call you back or introduce you to its parents. You career will openly flirt with others while you are around. It will forget your birthday and wreck your car. Your career will blow you off if you call it too much… Your career will never marry you.”

Basically, it’s important to have professional goals and to be invested in your work, but making your whole life about your various jobs will inevitably leave your frustrated and unsatisfied, which brings me to my next piece of point…

The worst thing about adulthood is that there is no built-in social component. There is no activities fair for adulthood. You have to take the initiative to be an active participant in the world. And I won’t lie; it’s very scary to put yourself out there. There were countless social gatherings and nights out that I left in tears after 20 minutes, because going out without backup can be awkward as hell. But unfortunately, we have to wade in some awkwardness (a lot of awkwardness) in order to have the chance to make new connections and actually build a community for ourselves.

It’s kind of like what mom used to tell us about forging your career: figure out what you like to do and find a way to be social with it. I love dogs and talking about books, so I tried volunteering with adoption events and joined a book club. This summer, I’m going to take a writing class with the hopes of not only improving my writing, but find some like-minded people to socialize with. Not everything is going to be a smashing success, but opening yourself up to new experiences and testing unfamiliar waters will eventually lead to your calendar having a little bit more color to it.

These next couple of years in general will be a lot of trial and error. Is this the right job for me? Do I see myself living in this city for a while? Are these people “my tribe” or are they placeholders until I meet people I have more in common with? It’s a second puberty, messy and awkward and confusing, which is why it’s important to maintain a healthy relationship with social media.

Social media is an awesome way to keep up with the friends and classmates who move away as they start their next chapter. But it is also a wormhole that feeds our insecurities about our life progression and where we fit in the timeline of our peers’ accomplishments. I’m three years out of college, and I still struggle with this almost daily. Some days, I’ll go down the rabbit hole of Facebook or Instagram and then 20 minutes later think to myself, “Why the hell am I even looking at this? I have like a handful of friends I actually keep up with, and I don’t need to obsessively check Facebook to know what they’re up to.”

I think social media can bring a lot of good (meme culture alone kept my laughing in my darkest moments), but we need to remember that it is also a carefully-crafted defense mechanism for a lot of us. It is more important to build a fulfilling life outside the screen than curate the perfect image within it.

That is why it’s so important to rely on your friends and family during this crazy transition. I won’t sugarcoat it; adulthood is really freaking hard. It will pull your hair and punch you in the gut and snub you when you’re out at the bar. But I got through the hardest times I’ve had so far (aside from rewatching episodes of The Office and Parks & Recreation) because of the people I had in my court. The people who checked in with me via text or card in the mail, or made the effort to meet up with me when I was in town or vice versa. The last three years have shown me exactly who in my life I can lean on, which has motivated me to work harder to let those people know how much they do mean to me.

When we get caught up in the day-to-day of our lives, especially when we’re adjusting to new things, it’s easy to forget to reach out. I’m trying each and every day to get better at being communicative with my friends, even if it’s just a check-in text. I implore you to do the same with your own group of friends, because they will be the people who will make this whole transition feel a little less foreign. They will be the beacon of light that helps you find your way.

With all this said, I’m not that worried about you. In your college years, you did something a lot of us don’t have the insight or courage to do that until way down the line. You addressed the fears and anxieties that were in the way of your happiness, and you have worked tirelessly to find ways to cope with them. With that, you’ve already set yourself up for success. Knowing yourself and having patience with yourself will be the two greatest things that keep you steady during this rocky time. You’ve dealt with change before, which makes you more adept than anyone to weather any storm your twenties throws at you, but for when your strength alone isn’t enough, remember that I have your back, no matter what.

K, I am so proud of the woman you have become. You have grown into a smart, wise, kindhearted young woman, the kind of person anyone is and will be lucky to have as a coworker and friend. I know that you will continue to be a woman who makes a positive impression with each person and situation she meets and that your grace and positivity will shine through even when the going gets rough.

I tip my hat to you, K, and to the entire Class of 2018 across the country. The adventure is just beginning, and I, for one, cannot wait to see where you guide yours. I love you. Now, go get ’em!

Your sister,
Casey

Image via Flickr user Shilad Sen / CC BY 2.0

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