A Love Letter to New Graduates

Tulips and daffodils are blooming, trees are (finally) budding, the sweet smell of fresh cut grass fills the air-it can only mean one thing, right?

Finals and graduation(s) are around the corner!

For my lovely friends in high school, college, or graduate school, who are either studying feverishly for finals and/or graduating this month and next, I am writing this for you. Since you are rather busy, I’ll sum up my letter after this sentence in respect for your tight schedules, and then you can always read the long, run-on-sentence, there’s-a-message-after-all-this-rambling-I-swear blog post later.

a) Congratulations! You have survived another year! Double congratulations if you are receiving your degree (or a degree) within the next few weeks.

b) You’ll be okay, and you will survive.

You may now resume studying frantically.

For those of you with time on your hands (or who prefer the procrastination way of studying) please read on:

Speaking purely as a graduate about to celebrate her one year post college anniversary in two weeks, take what I say with a grain of salt. I don’t have all the answers, nor do I claim to. I simply just want you to know some things I’ve learned, some of which you will learn in different ways or through your own experiences.

That being said, my letter commences (pun definitely intended):

Dear Soon-to-be Graduates of 2013,

Congratulations! You have successfully survived numerous finals, sleepless nights, stressful situations, exasperating projects, professors that lack sympathy, writer’s block, lack of inspiration, crazy tech weeks, late lab nights, long lonely hours in the library, questionable cafeteria meals, sock outs and other dangerous on campus events, an internship or two (or three), credit overloads, free time under loads,  washer/dryer hogs in your residence complex, millions of campus email spam, defending a thesis, the campus ghosts and haunted buildings-among many other classes and “extracurriculars”. ( I wasn’t kidding about the run on sentences.) In a few short weeks, you will don a rather flattering black gown with matching hat, walk onto a stage in front of hundreds of people, shake hands with the President, receive your degree (not the actual thing-they keep that elsewhere as collateral lest you do something stupid) and then once the ceremony ends, be greeted by plenty of professors, family, and friends with hugs and kisses and high fives and shots shouts of “WE DID IT!”

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You may go on to have a party in your honor, and post party maybe party hop to other parties, feeling confident, satisfied, and nothing but excited for what the future holds. I know that one year ago, that was me. The weeks leading up to my graduation, I was excited. Antsy. Eagerly anticipating (you are going to laugh) JOB SEARCHING. And when I put on my classic Chucks, walked out of that gym, fake degree in hand, I couldn’t believe that this moment had finally come. The moment you hope for during your high school years, that you pray for during the four years (or two) you spent here, the moment where you can honestly say (unless you are going to grad school) NO MORE PAPERS. NO MORE BOOKS. NO MORE TEACHERS DIRTY LOOKS. You dream about reading books you want to. You dream about having time to do what you want. You dream and smile and can’t believe you are at this moment.

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Now I’m going to shatter that image.

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Some of you will get hired after graduation. Which is awesome and I’m very happy for you if that is your case. Some of you may not have a full time gig after graduation, but you may have other plans. Graduate school, studying/traveling abroad, or an awesome summer internship lined up. To which I say, congratulations again!

However, some of you won’t have any of that. In fact, some of you will wind up working more hours at your current part time job, move back in with your parents (yes, your childhood bedroom will seem smaller-it’s because you have boxes of apartment stuffs that you have accumulated while away at school), and will be on your computer, everyday, looking for new job posts. Perfected resume on flash drive  you start throwing it around like dollar bills at a….lemonade stand (we’ll go with that). You check your email obsessively, your phone constantly, and think that any day, that one email or that one phone call will pop up.

It might not.

You may give it some time. You may think, while standing around at your current part time job, that it’s okay, I’ll be out of here by August, no sweat.

But August may come and go, and before you know it, you are busy with the holiday rushes, working almost full time hours for almost minimum wage and no benefits, and that’s when you realize. This. is. my. life.

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I know that I didn’t have realistic expectations after I graduated. I was adorably naive. I thought, “I’ve paid my dues! I have education coming out of my ears! I have a fresh degree in my hand! Someone will want me!” But then you realize, experience trumps education, so unless you have been studying for your particular field since birth…you will be chosen over for someone with more experience, even if you are the one with the bright ideas and enthusiasm that could actually make things better. Another alternative might be that you do have the experience and qualifications, but you lose out because there are just so many people applying for jobs, some well below their pay grade, that people are choosing them over us, even though they are too qualified. And it trickles down, right down to entry level food service and retail positions. College graduates are taking jobs away from high school students, who would like to work those jobs so they can save money for college. Think about that for a second. Some McDonald’s won’t look at applications unless the individual has a college degree. For McDonald’s. No hating on the Big Mac empire, but unless you are a manager, a college degree is not needed for a job there. Any teenager with common sense and work ethic could do that job, but instead, the college graduate gets chosen. So, we aren’t even able to play the victim card either.

At this point you are thinking, “Gee, thanks Shoe, now I feel really depressed and worthless. Great motivational speech-not!” And before we get to the silver lining and moral of this long winded letter, yes, you may feel depressed. And worthless. It’s a growing problem with our age group, 18-26, and the psychological sides of what we are going through isn’t always discussed. I just want you to know, that the feelings you may have over the next year, are normal to feel. You aren’t weird or crazy. There will be tears, there may be panic attacks, there may be insomnia, bouts of depression and anxiety, among other things. I say this not to scare you-but to help you. If you feel like this at any point-please, talk to someone. Talk to me. We will go out and grab a bite to eat or some coffee, and I’ll let you talk. If you want a more expert opinion, talk to a therapist. Seriously. There is nothing wrong with you if you feel like talking to an individual of a third party would help. It might, and it helped me. You might even learn some things about yourself in the process. Don’t keep it bottled up. I have chosen to write, and if writing is therapeutic, by all means do it. Exercise. A walk can be very refreshing and rejuvenating. Download songs and create a playlist of upbeat and motivational tunes (my go to songs for that would be “Gold on the Ceiling” by the Black Keys, “Unwritten” by Natasha Beddingfield, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Disney’s Mulan, Shake It Out” by Florence + the Machine, and of course “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey) Put on those songs when filling out applications and resumes, and it feels like you have your own little productive montage going.

Things won’t be rosy or easy. You will have bills to pay, and I’m not talking about loan repayment. Your car you’ve had since high school might take a nose dive, and you’ll have repairs to contend with. Your savings fund may seem rather empty, and you will feel like you will never get out of debt. Financial things aside, you won’t have all of your college friends around you, and that is hard. Having a support system helps immensely, but you may not have the one had for four years. Instead, your support system may develop to include your parents, siblings, co-workers, and that random Facebook friend who keeps you going with their cute pictures of cats.

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With all of that said, THERE IS A POSITIVE.

There is.

Dates for One:

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You don’t have to have life, from A to Z figured out right now. Use this time to find out who you are. Do you actually like working with people, or is that just a lie on your resume when you really think about it? Do you want to be in charge of future projects or would you rather be a helper who bends over backwards? Do you want to wear a suit or jeans to work? What do you love doing? What do you hate doing? What do you have mild feelings for that you are okay doing for say 35 plus hours a week? Where do you want to be right now living wise? Where do you want to go? Where do you want to end up? These are all things that will become clearer to you over the next year or so. Trust me on that.

My Big Fat Annoying Yet Awesome Family:

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Aside from personal revelations, living at home is not bad. Sure, you will butt heads with your parents. They have raised you from before you were born, and you have been away for awhile doing what you pleased when it pleased you. Butting heads is bound to happen. Keep calm, remain patient, and remember this is an adjustment for them too. Communicate. Express. Try to find ways to show your appreciation that they are letting you stay rent free (or be consistent and on time with your rent payments if they are charging you). In addition to parents, you may have younger siblings to contend with. You might be surprised to learn that that little brother you left four years ago is now in high school, dating girls, fixing cars, and doesn’t need to be babied. You might realize that actually the two of you can be actual friends and bond and grow closer, which is pretty cool. My younger brother and I have definitely had some awesome moments over the past year, some of which wouldn’t have happened had I not moved back after I graduated. I’m very grateful for that.

Your Not So Totally Awesome Part Time Job:

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Minimum wage, pressures to sell and make money for a corporation or business when it doesn’t seem like they want to share their goods with the people making the money in the first place, crazy hours, very few areas to advance or exercise creativity-there’s a good chance you may feel stuck. You may feel like you will never make enough for rent, or move on with your life. I’m here to say that you will, when the time is right. In the meantime, suck it up Buttercup (or if you must, vent to a dear friend and then suck it up 😉 and focus on the good things this job is giving you. Even if it is minimum wage, you are still able to make your loan payments each month, pay for gas, eat food, and even have a little inexpensive fun with friends. Even though you are working in food service or retail, it is making you a better person in ways. I know that when I go get food or clothes shopping now, I don’t get upset when they don’t have something I want in stock or leave my clothes in a heap on the floor (not that I ever did, and seriously, WHO DOES THAT?), but I have a new found respect for others in my current line of work. I remember my pleases and thank yous religiously, and if I don’t like a store policy, remember to not get upset with the employee-they didn’t make the rules, so don’t tear them apart. In addition to all of that, I am becoming a more assertive and firm person. There are some people out there who just want to take advantage of you, and the longer I work retail, the more I realize one needs to stand up for themselves. Be it customer, co-worker, or manager. Speaking of co-workers, realize the benefit that they are the few people who actually UNDERSTAND what you are going through work-wise. Your other friends or boyfriend may be willing to listen to your vent fest, but only co-workers will truly understand. It is an awesome feeling to explode in the break room, only to have your co-worker go “I FEEL THE SAME WAY.” So take advantage of this and go out for drinks and wings with your co-worker friends and bond. Finally, you never know how this part time job might be prepping you for something down the road. So, as hard as it is sometimes, work hard and try your best.

(side note: sorry for the intense use of ALL CAPS through this. Just passionate. That is all)

Chase Those Dreams:

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Just because you can’t land the dream job, doesn’t mean you have to put off other dreams. You want to travel? Save up and do it! While I don’t have enough to pay rent on a monthly basis, I did make enough commission one pay check to buy plane tickets, and went to DC, which I had never done before and it was amazing! I loved the history, the city, the weather we had, the cherry blossoms, the Metro-all of it. I was so grateful to have the chance to experience it all. One benefit of part time work is you can ask off-a lot (at least, more so than when you have a full time job). So take advantage of that! In addition to traveling, I’m pursuing other dreams. For instance, this blog. I love writing, and I’m pushing myself to write on a more consistent basis, and as mentioned before, it has been good for me. Other things I’ve been able to do while applying to jobs have included slowly yet surely updating my wardrobe, reading new books, taking up side jobs like at the newspaper and my new internship, etc. So, chase those dreams, whatever they are. You never know where that could lead you! Be spontaneous, make some random choices every once and awhile, and enjoy the flexibility this time of your life is giving you.

Remember Who Is In Control:

Some you may not believe there is a God, or we may have debate over who He is exactly. I’m not trying to prove His existence or force my beliefs on you, this is just what I believe. I believe there is a God, just because I look around at the world and it amazes me, and I just have a hard time comprehending that it just happened. Normally when you throw crap together it doesn’t create order (evidence: weddings), but I’m not here to debate that. Actually, if I am honest with myself, this past year has been hard believing anyone is in control of my life. That’s a struggle of mine. And it may be a struggle for some of you. Regardless, I believe that there is Someone out there that created all of this, and is watching out for us (not Big Brother). Someone that even when everything seems to be falling apart around us, gives us at least a beautiful sunrise, an unexpected gesture of kindness from a stranger, a surprise visit from an old friend-something good happens. Maybe not when we want it. Maybe not in a way we like it. But it happens. Your life over the next year may feel like it is falling apart at times, and that there is no control to it. Breathe. Let go. You aren’t supposed to have the control. Give up life’s remote and relax.

Finally…

I love you. A lot of people love you. Even if they don’t say it often or to your face, they do. Someday, it will all work out. One day we will look back at this letter and laugh at how I thought I was so wise. One day we will be exhausted from 40 + hour weeks, collapse in our La-Z-boy in our beautiful home, where we are surrounded by our wonderful spouse and amazing kids. One day we will accomplish some great things here on Earth, and that legacy has already started, whether it seems like it has or not. One day, we will see a graduate, shake their hand…but instead of expecting them to have their life figured out, we will simply tell them that the adventure is just beginning.

On that note, don’t view this as the end of my letter to you, but simply the beginning of where I stop talking and your experiences start happening. They may mimic mine, or be completely different. Either way, they are happening, and I cannot wait to see what life has in store for all of you.

Congratulations again,

Sincerely,

The Shoe

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Don’t Worry. Be Happy.

Last week if you recall, yours truly turned another year older, and was feeling, to put succinctly, lost. Unsure, confused, on the side of a dirt and gravel road, hopelessly clawing around the glove compartment for a map, any map that could show her direction.

Fast forward to a week later, and yours truly is smiling at random intervals during the day, laughter is coming easily to her, and a sense of optimism and inspiration has filled the space  recently vacated by the tenant that was housed their last week.

Perhaps the two days off in a row has helped benefit my overall mental health, or maybe the beautiful sunshine and emerald green grass and playful breezes are to blame. Maybe it was the trip to my doctor for a check up, who is always patient (pun!) and answers my every inquiry, like she has since I was seven. Maybe it was seeing Zach over the weekend, or maybe it was my rare choice to go without socks for a day. Who knows.

What I do know though, is I am trying. Which, a very old and wise person once said (okay, it was a puppet being voiced by Frank Oz, but that aside, Yoda did have some very profound moments…before they CGI’d the crap out of him), “Do or do not, there is no try.” But in this case, I’m trying to do, which in my mind is better than not trying to try to do at all.

I’m trying to enjoy the little moments life surprises me with. I’m trying to be content with how my life is now. My doctor, of all people, reminded me today that I’m where I am right now for a reason, and one day I will look back and maybe see why I was where I am now. But until then, I need to learn to be happy and love the now. A dream job may bring rejoicing to my bank accounts, but it won’t make me happy. Getting married might fill my soul with love and bring happy tears to my eyes, but it won’t make me happy. Holding my daughter’s hands as she takes her first steps might fill me with a sense of pride and protection I’ve never felt before, but it won’t make me happy. Painting the walls of an eventual living room in our first house might make me feel like a responsible adult and giddy with the sense of ownership, but it won’t make me happy.

If I don’t start working on being happy now, with who I am now and who I am with now and where I am now and what I’m doing now, than trying to find that happiness, chasing it through each stage in life will mean nothing and result only in one thing: lack of contentment, and disappointment.

Happiness starts within.

Life might not be my ideal right now. In fact, life at present may still give me days where I just want to hide under the covers from the world, and most of all, myself. But instead of focusing so much on what is wrong, I need to start focusing on what is so right and the countless blessings I have. Pursue my dreams and find out what they are, even if the world says I’m silly and childish for doing so. Embrace Zach often, and be beyond grateful for having someone like him in my life. Enjoy the hand holding and conversations where we talk over the other in excitement  and the moments where we butt heads because it is only a result of two opinionated individuals who feel extreme passion for the subject at hand and the other’s well being. Find comfort in co workers who have become friends, and the realization that working in retail (especially at a big box bridal shop) has helped me be a more firm version of myself, one who is assertive when the occasion calls for it and exercises compassion when my heart can’t help it. Being grateful for a place to put my words down in sentences (despite my lack of grammatical ways at times) and being grateful for the wonderful friends and loving family that do care about me. The friends the love me when I’m zany, and love me when I hurt. The family that defends me and may not use the word love often, but shows it immensely. Feeling blessed that while my body is not in optimal condition, I am alive and healthy, and my mind is this fascinating place that I can’t help but wander around in for hours. Remembering Someone bigger than me is in charge, and remember to thank Him often. Remember to ask Him and talk to Him when I need to, and want to, because sometimes He is the only one who can fix the mess.

To waking up a loved one, so they can see the moon rising.

To cookie dough ice cream.

To blasting the Backstreet Boys while commuting to work.

To random Qdoba dates with dear college friends.

To being able to smell Zach on my clothes after visiting him.

To finding shoes that are comfortable.

To sitting in Barnes and Noble, paging through children’s picture books and history books and touching best sellers with edgy designs for hours on end.

To grabbing breakfast with my dad.

To arguing with my mom over the benefits of a clearance top in the fitting room.

To randomly visiting my grandparents.

To looking back at old photographs, and seeing yourself in new light.

To making a child laugh in ways grown ups cannot.

To sleeping with the windows open, and hearing a distant train.

To waterfalls and cherry blossoms, seen by my eyes and through a lens.

To broken in sneakers, polka dot tops, and a cardigan in every color.

To pancakes with grilled bananas and melted ice cream instead of butter.

To letters with wax seals.

To gifts given from the heart.

To having to include toes when counting how many people love you.

These are reasons to not worry. These are reasons to be happy. To be happy, and to be happy now.