So, You Just Graduated College. Now What?

It’s college graduation season, and as a professor, I have a front-row seat to the glory every year. There’s plenty of pomp and circumstance, laughter and tears, and photos. So. Many. Photos.

If you’re a soon-to-be college grad, you’re likely equal parts excited and terrified. And no matter what, you’re bombarded with one question:

So, what are you going to do when you graduate? 

That’s a loaded question, chock full of purpose, significance, and direction; rife with tension and anxiety, full of your own expectations and the expectations of those who care about you the most.

Some of you may have your post-college plans firmly in place. Some of you have no clue what’s next. Regardless, you are entering a world which will bombard you with two very different and competing messages:

The first: “Live it up!” In other words, you can (and should) have it all. Wander, live a carefree life, and enjoy your post-college years before you’re tied down with a mortgage, a marriage, and a career.

The second message: “Figure it out!” Get your plans in place as quickly as possible, or you’re failing at adulthood. This brings a whole other variety of pressure: to get it right…right away.

Live it up, but figure it out. These messages cause post-college life to become an in-between land, an already-but-not-yet phase of adulthood. A neutral zone between a fun, carefree childhood and “boring” adulthood.

Both messages are false and confusing. To delay “real” adulthood for the sake of adventure is, let’s be honest, a stall tactic. It also assumes that adulthood is something to avoid (it’s not). But to sprint until we’ve checked all the boxes of a successful life is a recipe for disappointment. You simply can’t force your way into your future.

There’s a better way to thrive post college, a healthier approach than simply living it up or figuring it out right away. That better path is the way of vocation.

Post-college life: The Way of Vocation

Vocation, or God’s calling for your life, is a life lived faithfully with God in the many dimensions that make a good life. It includes our careers, but also our spirituality, our family, our church life, and our community. When we embark on the way of vocation, we live intentionally, even when we don’t have it all figured out. We also live our lives with hope, purpose, and meaning. Think of these three concepts as legs of a stool that support our post-college life.

Hope. English novelist George Meredith wrote, “To hope, and not be impatient, is really to believe.” These are wise words for your post-college life. Impatience can ruin some really good years.

The author of Hebrews (6:19) penned these words: “Hope [is] an anchor for the soul.” Hope provides moorings that steady you as you seek your direction in life. It also puts your desires and longings in their proper place. The post-college life is filled with ideas, questions, dreams, and expectations that often take time to unfold. Hope sustains you in the meantime.

Purpose. All your hopes and dreams may not be fulfilled in your timing after college. Patience will be required in abundance. However, this doesn’t mean this season of your life has no purpose. It is, in fact, intended to be a deeply purposeful time in which many important dimensions of the good life are developed. Your twenties aren’t just a holding room for a future “real.” They are real life.

Meaning. Annie Dillard once wrote, “How we spend our days is . . . how we spend our lives.” I think she’s right. Each of us is shaped by our habits and practices. The time and energy you devote to your post-college life is meaningful. It matters, and it’s much better to lean into it intentionally rather than simply letting your life happen.

Hope. Purpose. Meaning. Regardless of your plans, you can take these with that hard-earned diploma. They don’t eradicate fear or anxiety completely from your life, but they do provide the tools for you to take the next faithful step. The way of vocation is a process, not a destination. It’s a series of doing next right thing after next right thing, which Eugene Peterson calls a “long obedience” in the same direction. When you embark on the way of vocation, you can thrive. Here’s how:

  1. Be fully present and fully prepared. In your twenties, it’s all too tempting to focus on one of these at the expense of the other. The best way to lean into your twenties is to embrace the tension of being fully present and fully prepared. In fact, being fully present to what matters now is often the best preparation for the future.
  2. Actively participate. When things get hard, it’s easy to check out. Leaning into your twenties requires active participation in the many dimensions that make up a good life (spirituality, work, church, family, community).
  3. Live implicated. To live implicated in your twenties requires having eyes that truly see what’s happening in and around your life, and a heart and mind that recognize your responsibility to be about God’s restorative and redemptive work in the world. Even in the smallest of ways.
  4. Embrace freedom, not fear. Post-college life can be a scary place, and fear of getting it wrong can too easily dominate. The freedom of Christ extends to our vocation. Embrace it. He’s on your side.
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