The Next Best Years of Your Life

Six pearls of wisdom for new grads from my six years of post-college life

The Next Best Years of Your Life photo

As an Oy!Chicago blogger, I receive regular emails with suggestions of topics that might make for a good post. As I skimmed through this past week's list of prompts, I paused when my eyes gazed upon "advice to recent college graduates" -- it dawned on me that I graduated from my alma mater six years ago this weekend. Not to be cliche, but also to be pretty cliche -- where has time gone? How has that much time passed?

I feel like just yesterday I was trying to figure out how to make sure that my hair kept straight, my cap stayed not-so-perfectly decorated, my friends remained close, and my champagne glass (err, more likely solo cup) never got empty.

Today, I look back on college with the rosiest of rose-colored glasses, often joking with my friends how we took our energy, stamina, lack of responsibility, and metabolisms for granted. However, to many people's surprise, I would change very little about the past six years. I have learned more than I ever could've imagined.

Part of me wishes I could go back in time and advise 2012 Lauren, but I am also thankful that I was able to learn and grow immensely on my own. With that in mind, a little advice can go a long way, so here's what I have for all of you who just traded in your caps and gowns for your first real summer of adulthood:

And if you don't trust me, here's some advice from 2012 post-graduate Lauren.

1. If you don't have a plan or job yet, it is okay

People are going to tell you it's not okay or really poorly lie to you and say they know "you'll find something," but really, don't let it get to you. Do what you love, work hard, do some soul-searching, and don't rush yourself. It sounds idealistic, but if it takes you a few months to find a job, it might do more help than harm.

I worked at camp (shout out the JCC Camp Chi forever and always my favorite place) the summer after I graduated. After a rollercoaster of applications for both camp and other positions, I ended up working as the marketing and communications manager. This led me to solidify what I wanted to do career-wise and without this position and summer to reflect at camp, I can safely say that I would never be where I am today.

2. Quality outweighs quantity

I used to always be the person who wanted to be busy (like all the time), have a million friends, and always be surrounded by someone. After having very little alone time in college and at camp, it was an adjustment to move back to the suburbs, and not-so-later-on downtown. Not only was I in a "new" environment, but I also had to reevaluate friendships and my time spent alone versus with others. It was a long process, but I grew to draw the important conclusion that it doesn't matter if you are surrounded by hundreds of different people if the substance or connection is lacking.

I still consider myself fortunate to have an expansive amount of friends in different circles, but have definitely filtered out many toxic and/or lackluster relationships. In the same vein, the realization that alone time truly rocks and being busy all the time is probably the most overrated thing out there has brought me more positive peace of mind than I ever could have anticipated.

3. The motto "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life" is a lie, but do what you love anyway

I'm obsessed with my job. It's had its ups and downs and everything in between, but I truly get up every day feeling confident that I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing. That's amazing, but if I were to tell you that it never feels like work, I would be the biggest liar in the world.

Nothing is easy -- I have worked harder in the last 4-ish years than I have ever worked in my life. I have been challenged, hit roadblocks, and questioned myself and my path much more than I ever would have thought I would. To be honest, I couldn't be happier about it.

If you are looking to do something that really adds meaning to your life, know that it won't always be easy, but it will be worthwhile. Just because you love something doesn't mean it's perfect; nothing will be (or should) be perfect -- and that's coming from me, someone super type A (just ask my coworkers) -- but it can still be perfect for you.

4. Take care of yourself

This probably sounds like the biggest "duh" piece of advice ever, but in college, you can more easily get away with being -- for lack of better words -- ratchet with your health, fitness, and skincare regimen. But with each year that goes by, you need to take care of yourself even more, or so it seems.

I have definitely learned this the hard way, but take care of your physical and mental health. Go to the doctor. Get your teeth cleaned twice a year. Be proactive about your emotional state of being -- therapy can be a wonderful thing. Work out (I need to do this more, but a little is better than no exercise at all); don't only eat junk food (but also don't deprive yourself); take care of your skin (I am a repeat offender for falling asleep in makeup or not reapplying sunscreen); and treat yourself (the occasional massage is the best indulgence - well, that and a slice of Portillo's chocolate cake …)

5. Keep learning

Next week, I have my third and final seminar of a Spertus Institute series. After the first seminar, I came back into the office and announced to my coworkers that I loved learning. Nerd alert or what? I realized that I like being challenged and pushed to think of things from new perspectives.

Although I don't necessarily want to go back to school, I do want to keep engaging in short-term learning opportunities. Beyond that, whether it's listening to a podcast, reading an op-ed, or delving into a book (though I legitimately fall asleep while attempting to read probably at least once a week), you can very easily do things to enrich your brain.

6. Travel, travel, and travel some more

My bucket list is extensive. I still have a ton of places that I want to visit, explore, and immerse myself in, but after graduating, I made a promise to not let the love of travel I developed while studying abroad in high school and college fade away. Whether it's somewhere 15 minutes or 15 hours away, exploring new places will teach you, challenge you, make you happy, and make you think.

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Honestly, I could probably write about this for another few hours, but the most important thing is do what makes you feel good (within ethical and moral reason, of course). Trust your instincts, know what you value, and live your life.

We're all still figuring things out and we probably always will be. Although it may seem like the best chapter of your life has just closed, you'd be fooling yourself if you didn't admit that the best is yet to come.


Lauren Schmidt photo-375
Lauren Schmidt is the marketing and communications manager at Shorashim, where she has the opportunity to combine her passions of writing, marketing, social media, traveling and, of course, Israel. ... Read More



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