I’ve been teaching in the Torrey Honors Institute for four years now, and nearly all of the students I have mentored over that time will be graduating in a few weeks. I still remember sitting in a circle of desks in the McNally buildings with a bunch of eager – and, okay, maybe a bit awkward – freshmen three-and-a-half years ago. I remember being excited myself, a bit apprehensive, wondering if they realized I didn’t quite know what I was doing.
As my students are approaching graduation, it’s occurred to me how little we prepare folks for the transition from college to the big, wide world of adults. Lots of time and energy goes into the high school to college transition, but I suspect the post-college transition is even bigger. My students and I have been reading this book to prepare.
So, here are a few things that you (or that graduate you know and love) should do upon graduating…
1. Something else.
Really. Just do something else. Anything else. But make it new. Make it fun, too. If you’re going to be drowning in transitions, you may as well enjoy the process and take some risks. Just out of a no-dancing college, I joined a few high school friends in going swing dancing once or twice a week for months. It was fantastic and a welcome bit of undiluted fun in the midst of an angst-ridden time.
2. Read a book for fun, not because you have to.
Even though you’ve taken hard classes and have thought smart thoughts, it’s no guarantee that you will continue to think. So make sure to read. But, make sure it’s something (at least to begin with) that you want to read. If you don’t know where to start, try Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or David James Duncan’s The Brothers K. Or, read something in a field that you know nothing about – extending the “trying something else” to reading. What about Norman Mailer’s The Fight?
3. Find a less than perfect church.
That’s the only kind of church there is, of course. Graduates face change on every front, and a bit of continuity can go a long way. Find a church where you can serve and grow in community in the midst of the swirling waters of post-college life. What should you look for? For starters, a church that is good at building up the people who are already there and equally good at reaching out to people who aren’t. And, find a church that loves the Bible, makes you think and feel and has a lot of different kinds of people in the same place. Do not choose a church because it’s sexy.
4. Find a less than perfect job.
They all are, of course. I spent a few years looking for a perfect job – and I can tell you, it’s not out there. So just take a job. You’ll need to pay your bills while you figure out your life, so find something that won’t drive you crazy and will help train you in some way (because your 20s are the time to train). I delivered flowers, worked as a secretary, lived in the Philippines as a go-between, paid sales tax, did some writing and editing, went to grad school, worked as a children’s club assistant and pastored a church; and I still ended up happily in a career by the end of my 20s. It’s okay, and all but inevitable, to bounce around jobs in your 20s. Don’t be flakey, but also don’t expect to come out of the gate in your dream job.
5. And/Or, find a bizarre, never-do-this-in-your-40s kind of job.
It’s a great time to take a job that you couldn’t or wouldn’t take later when you’ve grown averse to risks, picked up a mortgage and are supporting a family. Move to Mongolia.
6. Focus on a few friends.
Your peer group will shrink considerably when you graduate (as, incidentally, will the dating pool). Look for friends that you can be close with, and pursue that closeness. These friends, like that church and job, will also be less than perfect. But cultivate friendship with them. Spend regular time with them – Tuesday nights for American Idol, Saturday mornings for breakfast and prayer. Some of my dearest friends are a small group of men that I prayed together with weekly while we were all in our 20s and lived with our moms. We struggled together, sought to discern God’s will for and presence in our lives, pushed one another to grow. You will never regret investing in friendships, and these will bring stability and needed perspective in these topsy-turvy years.
7. Learn how to cook five meals.
Here I ask you to do what I say, not what I do (though I did cook tonight, thank you very much). Learn to cook a few meals. It’ll help you save money, teach you to slow down, train you in hospitality. Try the taco soup I got out of the cookbook my mom gave me: equal parts canned corn, canned tomatoes, chicken broth. Heat it up, pour it over tortilla chips, sprinkle with grated cheese. Hearty and healthy.
8. Tithe 10% of your paycheck.
It doesn’t matter how little your paycheck is. Give from a glad heart to God. Don’t begin your post-college years with a plan to tithe when you get on your financial feet. Begin regular practices of giving small amounts in a time of want so that you will be ready to give larger amounts in a time of plenty. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills; he’ll take care of you.
9. Save 10% of your paycheck.
I know you don’t know where you’re going in life, but you can still plan ahead. Put away some money out of each paycheck for a rainy day – or a grad school tuition bill, or a wedding ring, or your kids’ college… You can probably set this up to happen automatically with your bank. Do that, too: automate things, so that you only have to make this smart decision once.
10. Explore and examine.
Explore and examine three things: your city, your neighborhood and your heart. Get to know where you live, the historical landmarks and hiking trails and regional peculiarities. Get to know your neighbors, too, and the local shops and restaurants. Learn about the plants and animals around where you live and outside your home. I heard the counsel to intentionally avoid buying everything you need when you move in, so you’ll have to get to know a neighbor. I didn’t buy a stud finder, had to borrow one from Rob across the street, then came away with a stud finder, four CDs, an invitation to a Super Bowl party and the beginnings of a friendship. Finally, explore and examine your heart, and invite the Holy Spirit on the trek.
11. Slow down. Keep the Sabbath.
It will be easy to be so frantic figuring out your life that you never stop to explore and examine your own heart. Make yourself slow down. Make yourself reflect on this admittedly tumultuous time of transition. Spend regular time in silence. Spend an entire day without driving or spending a penny. Fight the demon of hurry. Keep the Sabbath. Student after student has told me of the transformative effective of their reserving Sunday to worship, rest and play. Do that, too.
12. Pray and meditate on Scripture.
In doing these two things, we invite God into our lives to do what he will with them and we seek to fit our lives – our thoughts and words and actions – to Scripture. Do ask God what he wants you to do with your life, who he wants you to marry, all of that. But don’t just do that. Ask him to teach you about who he is, to make you someone who loves him and loves others, to enlarge your heart and open your mind to the things of the Spirit. And expect that he will do just that as you read the words of the Bible, commit them to memory, and return to them again and again.