It's graduation season aka the season of a million opposing emotions. To anyone who feels overwhelmed upon reaching this milestone, yes, you're supposed to be feeling like all the little "Inside Out" characters are running around in the control room of your mind, frantically trying to sort things out.
You'll feel them each and sometimes all at once: Joy when you're making exciting future plans, Sadness when you think about how fast the years have gone by, Fear when you stress about not achieving your goals, Anger when you think back on your regrets, and even Disgust— I can't count the number of times I've said "ew I'm graduating" in the last month.
With the chaos of jumping straight from the last finals of your college career right into graduation photos, ceremonies, and parties that seem to never end— things can be overwhelming. It can feel as if there's no time left to sort your emotions and process the last four years but, trust me when I say this, don't worry. Breathe.
Remember that moment and remember this advice, from one recent grad to another:
1. Now is your chance to go all the places and do all the things you didn't the last few years.
Quick! Before you go, make it to that one restaurant you always wanted to try, stop by the cool antique store down the street, take a day trip with your friends to the park in the nearby town, or hang out with that friend you had in the freshmen dorms one last time.
You've probably taken access to so many things for granted over the past few years without even realizing it while you've been busy, swept into a constant routine. Break your routine. Do what you didn't do. Make a bucket and check everything off.
2. It's okay if you lost some friends along the way.
You outgrow some people. It's as simple as that. This isn't a bad thing, this doesn't mean you and those people no longer care about each other, and this doesn't mean that you've grown more or better than they have. It just means that both of you changed since you first during your time away from home... in a learning-focused environment... that's filled with people in the process of finding themselves.
Change is bound to happen and sometimes your new selves may not vibe as well as your old selves did. And that's okay. Not maintaining a friendship with every friend you ever make does not mean you're a bad friend or mean person—it's just life. This is an obvious thought when pointed out but I think it's also a truth we often forget while thinking about past friendships.
3. It is absolutely not the end of the world if you don't have a job lined up for after graduation.
I don't care what anybody tells you— success takes so many different forms. For some people, success after graduation will be landing that dream job and starting their professional career right out of college. For other people, success after graduation may mean having earned the time to take a year off for traveling without feeling anxious about falling behind on work or the time to sit back, reflect on the last couple years, recenter, and breathe.
It depends on the person; it depends on what allows someone to end each day happy. The amount of genuine happiness you feel about what you're choosing to do after graduation, NOT the amount of numbers in your starting salary, is what will define your own personal success.
4. The past is in the past—let go of your regrets and mess ups.
THERE IS NO USE DWELLING ON THE PAST. A professor I had during my last semester taught me an important lesson: Every single thing you do in life will have positive and negative effects and you will never, never, ever know what exactly those effects will be. So just live in the moment.
This made me think of the butterfly effect: Every event in life, big or small and good or bad, has led you to every other event in your life that happened afterward. In other words, if you hadn't gone through one terrible event, you may not have experienced three great ones. So, think about it, maybe you don't regret as much as you thought you did; maybe some of your mess ups have led to so many great things in your life and you just never realized it.
5. No, the "best years of your life" are most definitely not over.
Yes, college is undoubtedly incredible. For almost everyone, it's filled with the most freedom you've ever felt and the most ridiculous memories you've ever made— SO FAR. But waiting for you after graduation is a time when you'll actually be most free to make whatever memories you want.
It will be the first time many people look at you as a real adult, the first time your intelligence isn't constantly being measured by standardized tests, and the first time you can call yourself an alum...and we all know from what we've seen during alum weekends that a proud alum's college years never truly end. Yes, 'adulthood' comes with responsibilities, but you get to pick and choose them yourself.
The "best years of your life" are not ending, they're just getting started.