It’s been – hold your breath, everyone – three years since I graduated from college.
The phrase “time flies” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The freshmen and sophomores I once trained and watched over in my org’s activities, fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds who once called me “Ate Kate”, are now juniors and seniors, preparing to defend their theses, fitting gowns for the annual graduation ball, applying to jobs and internships, getting ready for the real world. When I was in their shoes, I thought I was so grown up, so experienced in the ways of the world. And now, after three years of hustling, I can say that I was so, so wrong.
It’s not that I totally bombed adulting – or at least, the practical aspects of being an adult. In fact, I think I’ve done a pretty okay job so far. I pay bills, drive, work, drink wine, and spend my weekends decompressing on some far-off beach or up in the mountains. I’ve even taken some trips out of the country on my own dime. But don’t think I live from paycheck to paycheck – I have a savings account that I make regular deposits to, and which I haven’t touched in the two years since I opened it.
Graduation wasn’t some kind of magical portal I could step through and come out on the other side with a trendy job, sleek black pumps, and enough money to have mimosas and lattes everyday. I didn’t suddenly wake up the morning of April 1, 2013 and know how the world worked. The moments that happen after you walk across that stage and claim your diploma are what make you – what made me – an adult.
But more than that, I think what makes you an adult is the realization that you aren’t one, not really. In fact, accepting that everyday is a new experience and that you will always have so much to learn is something that I feel truly defines adulthood. So the day I graduated, I definitely was no adult yet, because I felt like the world should prepare for me to unleash myself on it. Today, I am older, a bit more battered, all because the world happened to me, rather than the other way around. And that, I think, is the biggest difference between Fresh Grad Me and Werq Werq Werq Werq Werq Me.
I know that sounds really bleak and cynical, but I choose to look at it from a different perspective. Yes, I pretty much get my ass handed to me on a regular basis, but all of this leads up to life as a young adult / young professional / millennial / whatever label you stick to yourself as being one giant teachable moment. There’s a reason the phrase “older but wiser” exists.
The world has kicked my butt so many times, but I’ve never stayed down. I learned my lesson, stood back up, and started over. I’ve come to realize that most of the learning that happens in a person’s life will happen outside of the classroom, and often it will be a baptism by fire type of situation. It’s harsh, but that’s how you learn.
One important lesson I’ve learned though, is that post-college life teaches you who your friends really are. I was one of those popular kids at my university, heavily involved with organizations, participating in a billion volunteer opportunities and extracurricular activities, out partying and drinking almost every weekend. I could walk into any of the bars that populated the U-Belt and find a table of friends to sit with.
But three years later and I haven’t kept in touch with a ton of people from my college days. It made me sad, thinking that I was leaving so many friends behind. But I’ve come to realize that as you grow older, the number of friends you have doesn’t matter so much as the quality. The people I’ve chosen to keep in my life – small handfuls of friends from college and high school – are people I know will always have my back. People I know I can rely on for anything. I know now that that’s having a small, genuine circle is better than having tons of casual acquaintances.
Am I an adult now? God, I certainly don’t feel like it. In fact the other day, I drove a friend to the hospital because she had a rash and a fever, and it turned out to be chicken pox. I told her, “It’s a good thing you got it now, isn’t it more dangerous to get chicken pox as adults?” And then she kind of stared at me and said, “Kate, we are adults.”
All I could say was a lame, “Oh, yeah, I forgot.”
Physically, I am an adult, I guess. And I rock all the other ways people measure adulthood, like paying taxes and making one’s own doctor appointments. But emotionally? Spiritually? Mentally? I really, really don’t think so.
I’ve accepted that there’s a lot I still don’t know, a world that I must still learn from, but does that make me an adult?
Everyday, I wonder if it’s all just one big game of pretend, if every adult in the world is secretly stumbling through life not knowing what they’re doing, if everyone is operating on a trial-and-error basis. I wonder if this concept of being an adult doesn’t actually exist. Is there some period in life where you just stop wondering how to be an adult, wondering if you’re doing this right, and just suddenly realize that everything’s gonna be okay?
And just because I didn’t get to post these photos when I was a fresh grad…