Commencement and a Note to My Younger Self

I left with plenty of time for a breakfast meeting in Harvard Square. Traffic was really bad, more so than usual. The breakfast place was loaded with people. I then realized it was Harvard Commencement, with today being Class Day.

Thankfully, I arrived with time to spare. I sat there and observed all the students sitting at tables with parents and grandparents. Everyone looked so happy and well-dressed!

All of this made me think of my own college graduation. As I’ve shared with Eric, leaving college for me was like hitting a cold shower. The Adult World was like a knock on the head.

I still remember that black caps and gowns do not mix well with summer sun. I still remember the weird feeling as friends peeled off and jumped into their parents’ cars, and many of us didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I still remember the combination of excitement/achievement/dread that weekend.

So, here’s what I wished I knew in a letter to my younger self.

Hey Jo, congratulations! Amidst all of the celebrations, packing and moving, here’s what I think you should know.

  • Give yourself time to grieve. Seriously. You’ve just left your home of four years and your friends. You won’t be seeing all of them again as a group except for the episodic wedding. So, if you feel sad, you should be.
  • Your first job will be stressful. You are the low person on the totem pole. You offer energy but no experience, Rolodex or deep skills. You’re sadly expendable and easy to replace. Just take one day at a time. Try your best and figure out who you are and what kind of culture you like being in.
  • The first few jobs are about optionality. Do well so that more doors open for you in the future. Don’t sabotage yourself and have doors close. Create options.
  • Rebuild your community. Staying in touch with friends will be pretty easy via social media and texting. But, there’s no substitute for in-person friendships. So, make sure you join a sports league, a Church group, or a MeetUp focused on a hobby.  You’ll want peers around you and not just work colleagues. Depending on your work environment, some of your colleagues might be true friends or double agents. Make sure you have people whom you trust outside of work.
  • Read 15 minutes a day. It’s extremely easy to be so focused on The Daily Grind of your job that you lose interest in the outside world. To stay engaged, read something each day, whether it be a novel, non-fiction or the news. Stay connected and let your mind think about something outside of work.
  • Build in positive daily habits. If you can, exercise each day. Sleep. Cut down on the late nights. Work-hard-and-play-hard can work in college, but something happens to your body in your early-20s. You just cannot do that anymore. There are only two ways to work off stress: sleep and exercise. Make those core parts of your life.
  • Volunteer. This is a fantastic way to “give back,” meet new people and engage in something that forces you to think beyond yourself. You will find, I think, that nearly all of your concerns are First World Problems. Volunteering forces you to build empathy and compassion. You need to have both already within you if you want to receive them from others. Go to these events with the following thought: “I’m here to be a net-giver and not a net-taker.”
  • Rejoice! Your college friends will be there for the rest of your life. They are a lifelong support network. Even to this day, when I see them, it feels as though very little time has passed. We tell the same kinds of jokes and have the same level of intimacy. They keep me young. So, you always can go back to your 21 year-old self.

Enjoy graduation and an exciting next step in your life! The best is yet to come….

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