I didn’t have the very final and emotional graduation experience the average college student. I walked at commencement in May of last year but I graduated several months earlier. I sort of slithered away without a lot of fanfare, which worked for me. I’m not great at adjusting as is, so when you infuse a lot of extra emotion it only makes matters worse.
I graduated college about the same time I got married. I believed that compared to pledging myself to someone forever graduating would be not a big deal, and I was wrong. I didn’t realize how major graduating would feel until a couple months later when my life no longer had long-term structure and I didn’t carry a label like “sophomore” or “English major.”
Since I graduated last year I have been learning four big things, things that I didn’t know I didn’t know but have changed everything for me. These are definitely not things I have figured out–some days it’s like I’ve forgotten absolutely everything and I go to bed a frazzled mess (does this happen to anyone else??). But the more I focus on these things the less often I have those days. When I’m frustrated or discouraged and I remind myself of these truths, I gain a lot of important perspective.
Here’s what I’m learning:
1. My hopes and dreams might change.
When I graduated from Grove City I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do forever. I thought I had found my niche. I sought opportunities to develop skills in that field. I was focused.
When I graduated I took a job doing something that was not what I had always wanted to do. I knew it would be a short-term thing so I was ok with veering from my dreams, but I didn’t expect to love it. It opened my eyes to the fact that (gasp!) I didn’t have it all figured out. My dreams change as I change. What I believe my purpose to be shifts as I learn more about who I am supposed to be. To think that I am certain of what I should do, the path I should be on, also assumes that the person I am right now will think the same way as the person I will be in 20 years. I do not want that. I want to continue to grow and learn and as I mature my sense of purpose will adjust and deepen as well. That does not mean I am a flighty wanderer, subject to the shifting tides of my own mood. It means I am open to how the Lord molds my heart and my passions.
2. I need to stop trying to figure out what I am supposed to do and start thinking about what I love doing.
If you have read The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines this might sound familiar to you. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it because I feel like a very farmhouse-loving mom (two things I am definitely NOT), but I think this book changed my life. And I am not even being dramatic.
Maybe because it hit me at an especially vulnerable time or maybe because Chip and Joanna are actually as genuine and cool as they seem on TV, but Joanna writes some of those exact words in her book about how she grew to learn what God was calling her to. Like Joanna, I am one of those people who thinks a lot about what I am supposed to be doing. I have a strong sense of purpose. I’ve learned that if someone tells me I’m supposed to do something for some kind of meaningful reason I will put up with A LOT to make it happen. On the flip side, if I deem something as not especially useful I have no patience for it. (Ask my husband, friends, family, etc. and you will hear that this is often someone’s favorite and least favorite thing about my personality.)
Sometimes this grand sense of purpose I live with is very good, and sometimes it makes me fail to see meaning in the mundane. It makes me limit God. It makes me think that if something doesn’t feel important then it isn’t. I spend a lot of time trying to find the thing with the most impact, trying to search for opportunities that feel important. I mistakenly think that God can only be found in those things. Really, God’s goodness has no limits. It has no stipulations, no formula. God can reveal his glory however he pleases. To think we can control this is close-minded and dangerous.
David writes in Psalm 37:4 that if we delight ourselves in the Lord he will give us the desires of our hearts–that is, he will fill our hearts with the desires he wants us to have. The hard part comes next: we are compelled to trust those desires–as daring, scary, or far-fetched as they may seem. If we are delighting in the Lord and trusting in his providence we need to give those desires some credit.
Too often I separate the desires of my heart and the stuff I think I’m supposed to do. I think that God can only work in the safe places. But nothing about God is safe. God doesn’t ask me to be careful, he asks me to be unashamedly the person he has made me to be. I’m learning that if I entrust God with my dreams I can also count on him to work through them in ways I cannot even imagine. I can trust him to merge those categories–if I surrender my dreams to him he will give me the desires I am supposed to have. I can stop searching for a grand sense of meaning and rest assured that he will infuse meaning into my days.
3. Life is not a race.
College has a way of making you think that you can win at life. If you know what you want to do and you follow steps 1 through 5 to climb the ladder then you will win in your career. If you find someone to love in your early twenties and get married shortly thereafter in a blog-worthy wedding you will win in your relationships. If you move to a super cool city and find incredible roommates and eat a lot of brunch and hang out in cool bars you will win in your lifestyle.
School is goal-oriented. You study to get a grade, you get grades to keep your scholarships or earn a GPA, and then you graduate in four or five years. Everything has a deadline and everything has a reward system. Life is not like this, but school makes you think it should be. If you are not meeting perceived expectations then you are falling behind. If you are not doing as well as the person alongside you then you are losing. If you let yourself live this way you are letting yourself live in a pressure cooker.
For a while it felt like I was fully focused on meeting the next goal, passing the next benchmark. And then when it came time to move onto the next thing I panicked because there was no “track”. Was I on the right path? Is my “plan” as foolproof as I thought it was? It was so hard for me to settle into a place of uncertainty. To be able to say “I am where I’m supposed to be, but I don’t know what is next–and I don’t have to.” I had to remind myself that I am not just treading water if I’m not sprinting towards my goal. I can be faithful in the present and that is just as important
4. Comparison is the thief of joy.
This is cliche and it is not the first time you’ve heard it. But it is pure truth and perhaps the most important thing. At least two very wise people have said this to me just this week, and it was precisely the reminder I needed.
Don’t compare your job (or lack thereof), your salary, your living situation, your friends, anything, to anyone else’s. Not only will it wreck you but it is not fair to God and the beautiful story he is writing for you. Embrace your messy, twisted, perfect journey, and savor that it is yours. It is only beginning, and the best is yet to come.