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Graduating into the real world: Lessons learned and shared

Alexandra Floersch, Life at 20-something columnist1 / 3
Photo illustration by Alexandra Floersch / Forum News Service2 / 3
Photo illustration by Alexandra Floersch / Forum News Service3 / 3

FARGO — We know what you're thinking: Your life is going to be different. We thought that, too.

But it's not.

We felt the goosebumps. We witnessed proud parents gather to watch us stroll across the podium and receive our degree. We threw our caps in victory, knowing the time spent studying and test-taking had finally paid off.

Alas, there was something to show for it. And we have many lessons to share with new grads.

Just as quickly as we hung up our gowns, we were introduced to the real world — the life that follows after graduation. After more than a decade spent in formal education, we were free to spend our time differently but we didn't fully understand the strings attached.

We learned quickly that weekends are never long enough. The mental and physical exhaustion that comes with a full-time job can't be restored in a short, 48-hour period. We were baffled by the way Monday mornings came much faster than anticipated. We became weekend warriors.

In juggling professional boundaries and an adequate social life, we found our circle of friends shifted. In high school, our friend groups depended on sports teams or bandmates. In college, we were choosier. But when interests changed and distance separated us, those low-maintenance friendships became high maintenance. Those close to us geographically were captured by our orbit; friendships developed between professionals in our industry and friends in the same stage of life — not just the people we grabbed $1 beers with in college.

We thought after college, we'd be done with ramen noodles, PB&Js and frozen pizza — those days were behind us. We believed a steady paycheck meant caviar and filet mignon ... but we were mistaken. Instead, we saw only a slight upgrade to off-brand products and a marginal increase to our fast food budget.

We found there was no fairy godmother to sweep us off our Cinderella feet — no one to give us the sparkly glass slippers. We'd have to work for it. Entry-level jobs don't finance a Lamborghini ... unless you're Mark Zuckerberg.

But we were also confident the number tied to our time didn't determine our worth. We did. We learned that the faster we figured out the price tag on our skills, the faster we'd rise to the top.

Navigating the real world was tough. Some days we felt we couldn't find our way out of a parking garage. Other times we harnessed the confidence to fool ourselves that we had all the answers. We learned "fake it 'til you make it" is a powerful life strategy.

But perhaps the most critical lessons we learned was that we must never gauge our own success by comparing. It's easy to use a fellow graduate or friend as a rule for the norm. We thought, "If they're getting married, I should be too. He's buying a house, I should start looking. My friends aren't having kids, I guess I should wait."

Wrong.

We realized it's our life. No one else is living with the same skills, circumstances or financial situation as we are. We promised ourselves not to use others to determine what's timely for our life. We are exactly where we need to be ... it's our perfect timeline.

Eventually, we admitted we missed the challenges of college and even the stress of petty homework assignments — stress that no longer ranks next to rigid deadlines and critical decisions in our careers.

But there is beauty in the decisions that lie ahead of us. We have the opportunity to choose who we want to be.

So grads, take it all in. Enjoy these moments. You've closed one chapter in your book, but life awaits you for so many others, and that's the beautiful part.

Alexandra Floersch

Alexandra Floersch has worked for Forum Communications since February 2015. She is a content producer and photographer who enjoys writing about finance, fashion and home.

(701) 451-5730
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