Life after Wake Forest isn’t just about doing the work. It’s also about doing life and figuring out what that means for you. You may have moved to a new city, and find yourself navigating new relationships both personally and professionally while figuring out where the old ones fit in. You may find it challenging to fit in all the things you want to do with the limited time you have available. You may struggle to identify the type of person you want to become, and how to create an intentional life that supports those choices. You may have to renegotiate boundaries with family members. At a very basic level, you may have to find a grocery store, a gym, a new favorite coffee shop. All of these experiences are normal and they don’t happen overnight. Remember the change process you read about earlier. You’re going to have to let go of some things and be willing to grab hold of something new to fully move through that process.
One thing I always say is to expect the first three months of any life transition to be incredibly hard because you will be totally off your game. You’re in a new place, you don’t know anyone, you’re off your rhythms, and don’t have your go-to patterns. Part of the value of these first three months is finding those habits and routines that will help you to feel like you actually live in a place, and not like you’re just playing tourist. And, there is great value in being a tourist, for a bit. You know what happens when you get settled and comfortable in a place? You stop wandering down side streets, just to see where they might lead. You no longer go on long, exploratory walks, just because. You don’t go sit alone in a bookstore or a coffee shop or a restaurant, because you no longer have to. It’s great to reach a point of comfort and familiarity. And, the greatest learning always happens just outside your comfort zone.
So, embrace these first few months. Pay attention to what’s happening and reflect on what you’re learning along the way. Take some notes on your initial impressions – about people and places and what you’re feeling – and then tuck it away somewhere to reread six months or a year from now. I bet you’ll be shocked to see how far you’ve come, and to realize the clarity with which you saw things here at the beginning.
Here’s the thing about this three month transition time. If you walk into it expecting it to be hard and uncomfortable and maybe even kind of lonely for three months, it won’t surprise you when it is, and you will be far better-equipped to deal with it. And, you’ll be so pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t take you that long to find your places and people, and to start to feel a bit more comfortable. A bit more like you’re at home.
This Isn’t College, Do This Differently
Some of you are walking confidently into this next phase, ready for a new version of you: a professional, competent, adult version of you, who lives independently, makes their own choices, builds a career, creates and maintains adult relationships, and begins to build a life for yourself. Good for you! And some of you are wondering, What does any of that mean, and how do I even get started? Am I an adult, now? Because it definitely doesn’t feel like it.
There is no one moment, in fact, where you realize that you’re an actual adult. No one hands you a certificate of adulthood, or throws you an adulthood party, or welcomes you into the community of adults. There are lots of little markers, of course: you turn 18 (you can vote and go to war!), you turn 21 (you can drink!), you turn 25 (you can rent a car!), you graduate from college, you get your first job, you pay taxes for the first time, you buy your first home, you get married, you have children, and so on and so on. And I promise you, at none of these points, as monumental as they are (well, other than that car rental thing, which is just weird), will you say to yourself, now I am an adult. In fact, you’re probably going to feel more like saying to yourself, I have no idea what I’m doing, who let me in here?
We all have a bit of the impostor syndrome when it comes to adulthood. We’re all just faking it in our own ways until we make it, whenever that is. That’s the terrifying thing about this transition: there are no clear rules, there are no instruction manuals. And this is also what makes it very cool. Everything is a giant learning opportunity, if you only approach it as such. What is clear is that this isn’t college, and you can, and you should, do this differently. Even if you’re not one of the ones walking into this next phase with confidence, you absolutely can and should be someone who does so with intention. What will the adult version of you look like? What do you want to value and hold dear, and what are you ready to let go of? These are choices that you get to make for yourself, now. Why not take some time to really think about it, and set some intentions for yourself?
Part of becoming an adult and taking ownership for your life means managing the details effectively: finances, time and priorities, and health and wellbeing (which we will get to in a moment). First, your finances. Only you know the state of your disposable income, but for most of you I will assume that graduating college also means largely covering your expenses on your own from here on. If you’ve moved someplace like DC, New York, Boston, or San Francisco, this won’t be an easy task. These are cities with high costs of living, which means that rent is elevated and so are basic expenses like food and social outings (to put it bluntly, you’re going to pay more for a beer in New York than you will in Winston-Salem). And, unless you’ve gone into particular fields, like investment banking, often the salaries in these locations are not much higher than other places. Working in marketing in DC only pays a fraction more than working in marketing in Winston-Salem or Raleigh.
These are the realities of living in these locations. And that means you need to factor in these expenses with the amount of money you are making. You need to make a budget. You need to get honest with yourself about how much money you have coming in, and how much you have going out. This is a simple process: make a spreadsheet with categories across the top for the areas where you spend money. This would include things like rent, utilities, groceries, eating out, gym membership, coffee, and so on. The more categories you have, the better, as it will force you to get very clear on where your money is going. And then, for the next month or two, write down every single expense that you make. Don’t cheat yourself! Be completely honest. See where you are spending money, where you might be able to cut back, and create a budget based on those choices. Then stick to it.
There are online tools to help with this, of course. Check out tools like Mint.com as an example (there are many such tools and as with anything, you should do your homework before choosing one). While these tools do simplify the process to the point that you don’t have to think about it, I do think there is value in doing some of that old-fashioned pen and paper (or finger to keyboard on an excel spreadsheet) work, to really see and understand where your money is going, and why. You can’t change your habits if you don’t understand the why behind them.
As part of your budgeting process, don’t forget to research what is going to happen with your student loans, if you have them. Once you graduate or leave school, your federal student loan goes into repayment, and you will be placed into an automatic repayment plan. However, there may be up to a six or nine-month grace period, and you can potentially request a different payment plan if you need it. Don’t make assumptions or wait until the end of that time to figure out what you will owe, and by when. Go here for additional information on federal loans: https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/repayment and reach out to your service provider for other loans. And, very importantly, pay attention to your email. Most loan servicers send an email when your billing statement is ready for you to access online. Missing payments or having a collection agency come after you will have serious long-term ramifications.
Just like with your money, you only have so much time in any given day or week. None of us has more than twenty-four hours in a day. This means that you have to get very clear with how you want to spend your available time. And just like with your spending, you can easily make a time budget and start to track how you are spending your time. At least nine hours will be spent at work (including lunch). Probably another hour (or more, depending on where you live) will be spent getting to and from work. You may spend one or two hours in the morning getting ready for work, eating breakfast, and so on. You may spend an hour exercising. An hour making and eating dinner. That leaves you with ten or eleven hours to do whatever else you want to do with the day.
Ten hours, you might be thinking, that sounds like a lot! Does it? How much sleep do you need each night? Eight hours? Well now you’re down to two hours of available free time. Spend an hour on the phone or the internet and you’ve got one hour of available time to spend however you want. Except, don’t forget about doing laundry, shopping for groceries, cleaning the apartment, paying bills, and so on.
So, that’s depressing. And, it means you need to get super-clear on what your priorities are and how you plan to manage your time during the week. Clearly, you won’t work every day, which gives you some more time on the weekends. But even with that time I hope it’s quite clear to you now that you can’t do everything. Being an adult means making hard choices and recognizing that sometimes you have to compromise one priority for the sake of another.
I want to caution you about aiming to fill every bit of free time that you have with something “productive.” There is value in rest. There is value in mindless TV. There is value in time spent with friends, “doing nothing.” One of the biggest mistakes that young people make when they first get out of college is trying to fill every hour with something, because they just don’t know what to do with downtime, and they don’t want to face the quiet spaces of being alone. I encourage you to resist this urge. For one, you will find, over time, that the things you do will multiply, and soon you will be over-committed, just as you were in college. As an adult, no one is impressed by, likes, or gives a pass to the person who says they are going to show up and then flakes out.
So proceed slowly, and with intention; start to think about the things that give you energy and that align with your values. Were you involved with a church when you were in college, and is that something you value? Seek out a faith community in your new city. Do you gain energy from giving back and volunteering? Look for one (just one!) group where you might contribute your time. Do you find value in organized sports or working out or running? Seek that out and make it a part of your life. Being an adult means that you get to choose how you spend your time, and with whom. Just because you’ve moved somewhere new and don’t know anyone yet doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the activities that fill you up. As a bonus, these are opportunities to build community too.
Now is a good time to ask yourself:
- What steps do I need to take to have ownership over my finances starting now?
- What does my time budget tell me about where I am spending too much time, and where I am not spending enough?
- What is one non-work activity that I want to seek out in the next month?
Why am I So Tired?
One of the first realizations most new professionals have about work is that it comes with a special kind of tiredness that is both unexpected and hard to describe. Especially if all you are doing is sitting at a desk all day, it seems alarming to be as exhausted as you will be. Again, this is normal! Remember, up until this point your life operated in small bursts of energy of no more than a few hours at a time. Now you might be asked to focus on one task, or to stay in one spot, for days on end. At some point, it’s worth thinking about your work environment and whether the one you’re in is the one you would like to be in long-term. But that’s a conversation for down the road. For now, you need to adopt some habits and build up some stamina in order to be a competent, effective, working professional.
What does this mean? For one, you must prioritize sleep and taking care of yourself, starting now. The things you could get away with in college – pulling all-nighters, burning the candle at both ends – simply won’t carry you very far as an adult. Showing up to work bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived will get you noticed, but not for the reasons that you want. Give yourself a few weeks of going to bed earlier than you think you should to start to build a habit and to get your body on the schedule it needs to be on to get through the day. This will pay off, I promise you!
Taking care of yourself also means building in time to balance out your work life with non-work activities. If you’re stuck in an office all day, take fifteen minutes at lunch to get outside and go for a walk. Figure out when your energy is the highest – before work or after – and use that time to get some regular physical exercise. Read books for pleasure (you can do that now!) and spend some mindless time in front of the TV. Eat healthy meals that you don’t grab from a vending machine, a street cart, or a fast food joint. All these intentional choices are signs that you are growing up and being an adult. They will also do wonders for helping you to get over the feeling of being exhausted all the time.
Eventually you will adjust and you won’t remember this feeling of tiredness (or it will shift into a different stage). Just remember: no one gets a prize for being the most run-down, the most burned-out, or the most incapable of coping with the demands of life. Everyone else you work with has already gone through this, created their routines, and learned how to show up every day energized and ready to work. They will expect you to do so as well. And if you’re not sure how, ask! There’s always value in learning from the wisdom and experience of others.
This also means seeking out professional help if you need it. Whether or not you made use of the Counseling Center when you were at Wake Forest, there is no shame in seeking out professional counseling as an adult. First check with your health insurance to see whether they cover it and what you need to do to make that happen. Unfortunately, this is one of those support areas that is no longer free to you as an adult. But that does not mean you should ignore it! Taking care of your mental self is as important as taking care of your physical self, and one absolutely can and will impact the other.
The bottom line is this: there is nothing wrong with seeking out the help you need to make sure you can be your whole self, both at work and in life. Being a healthy human being is an important part of being an adult, whether that means carving out a bit of alone time, choosing to go to sleep over going out, making smart food and exercise choices, seeking balance, or seeking out the support and guidance of others, professional or otherwise.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to get started:
- When was I at my best in college? How can I incorporate some of those strategies as a young professional?
- When do I feel like my energy is highest during the day? How can I start to capitalize on that?
- What are 2-3 healthy life habits I could start to incorporate over the next month?
Building Community and Finding Your People
Probably the biggest thing you’re worried about right now, more so than work, or sleep, or time, or going to the gym, is how you will find friends as an adult. That is a totally reasonable concern! Finding friends as an adult is hard. No longer are you surrounded by people your same age, going through a shared experience like you did in college. No longer are there programs and events planned just for you, with the sole purpose of connecting you to other people. This is work that you now have to do on your own, for yourself. Consider it your adult activities fair, if you will.
First, some of you may have moved someplace like DC or New York with a large population of Wake Forest alumni, and maybe even some of your friends moved there, too. In fact, if you’re in one of these places you are likely sharing living quarters with multiple roommates. This may seem like a drag, but actually will help you in the long run in terms of expanding your network and giving you a built-in social system. There is power in numbers, after all. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend all your time together. In fact, I would recommend that you carve out some alone time each week, in whatever ways you can do that. And, you don’t want to become so insular that you’re only hanging out with people you already know. The point of post-graduate life is to expand your universe, not to constrict it.
Second, you may have moved to one of these places and still not know anyone, or you may have moved to a place without a large built-in population of Wake Forest people. No matter your situation, you need to figure how to meet (other) people. Then you need to figure out how to meet people with whom you actually want to spend time. And that means putting yourself in situations that allow you to meet people, which, for some of you, will push you way out of your comfort zone.
My recommendation is that for a period of time, say six months to a year, you make a pact with yourself that you will say yes to as many things as possible. If someone invites you to a party and you don’t know any of the other people who will be there, say yes, and commit to staying at least an hour and meeting at least one other person. If someone at work invites you out to lunch, say yes. Seek out opportunities to join organizations, to volunteer, to go to book readings, or other similar opportunities that put you in connection with other people, and that force you actually to talk to people.
Now you might be thinking, this seems weird, this isn’t how I made friends growing up! Isn’t it though? You were put in a play group, or you joined a team, or you spent your Saturdays volunteering, or you were part of a youth group, or you went to college and joined organizations. Each of these activities had a purpose, and each of these activities had a by-product, which was you meeting people who might share your interests. This doesn’t mean that you have to like everyone you meet, or that everyone you meet is going to be a long-term friend. But somewhere in there you will find one or two. Worst-case scenario, you may find a group or a cause or a social event that you actually enjoy.
Listen. This isn’t going to be hard forever. A year from now, you will have people in your life you can’t imagine haven’t been there the whole time. But it does take time. Relationships are work, and they aren’t built overnight. The best things rarely are.
At a certain point you will also need to think about the professional relationships you will need to develop in order to progress in your career. You need to look for mentors, sponsors, and wise counselors who can help you navigate your workplace, your career choices, and your next steps. The first three months isn’t the time to do this work. It is the time to start paying attention to those who might fill those roles in the future, and to cultivate relationships with your colleagues.
Just like with your personal relationships, this isn’t work that’s done overnight. It’s an ongoing process of demonstrating genuine interest in your colleagues and their lives (even though you may feel like you don’t have a lot in common with them), engaging with them over a cup of coffee or at a work social event, seeking their feedback and advice, and looking for ways you can contribute to their goals and work. Don’t discount the value of these interactions! This is where you build real, formative relationships with the people who can and will support you down the road. By demonstrating that you genuinely care about them now, you give them reason to care about you later.
Making the Most of Your First 90 Days – In Life
Just like in your professional life, you need to give yourself some grace when it comes to navigating the personal transition you are going through. Moving to a new place, learning how to make friends, and trying to figure out where you belong, are unsettling experiences, to say the least. Not to mention managing the day-to-day basics of getting around, buying groceries and doing meal prep, paying bills and taking out the trash, and finding time to relax and recharge. This is the time to remind yourself, you have been here before. When you arrived at college, you had to figure out the rules of behavior, how to make new friends, where you belonged, how to manage your time and your priorities, and how to take care of your wellbeing. It may have looked and felt a little different, but you did it. You have everything you need in you, right now, to successfully navigate this transition as well.
That said, there is nothing wrong with learning from others. So here are some tips on how to make the most of the first three months post-college, in life.
- Get comfortable with discomfort. You’ve read this several times now, but you need to walk into this transition period expecting it to be hard, challenging, and uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean it has to be bad! Challenging experiences can be great experiences. So don’t spend all your energy trying to fight it, or filling up your time with busy-ness so that you won’t have to face it. There are great things to be learned about yourself and others in this moment. Learn how to be alone with yourself and your thoughts. Figure out what is most challenging to you during this time and create strategies to address it. Pay attention to how you are feeling as much as what you are doing. After all, this won’t be the last time that you are in this place. Next time you’ll want to remember what you learned so you can put it into practice.
- Get selfish. Be stingy with your time, your money, and your health. This is the time to learn that no one is going to tell you what to do with these three important elements. No one is going to tell you to get a good night’s sleep, or to be sure to get regular exercise, or to stick to a budget, or to protect your free time. Why not? Because everyone else is trying to figure out their own stuff and they expect you to be an adult and to handle yours. You have to do this work for yourself. The first three months that you are someplace new are some of the best time to do this work because you won’t have as many people or obligations competing for your time and attention as you will down the road. Start to build great habits, now, and you will be better able to sustain them in the future.
- Join groups. For you extroverts, this one is going to be a cinch. But even if you are on the far end of the introvert spectrum (as I am), it’s still important to get out there and connect with people. Find one or two activities that align with your interests and give you energy, and which put you in contact with other people. Sometimes the best time to meet new people is when you yourself are new to a place. You’re much more likely to be vulnerable and to put yourself out there, now, than when you have gotten comfortable and developed a persona for yourself. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but have been a little afraid to? Now’s the time to try it! Go join that writing group or outdoor pursuits club or pickup soccer game. What do you have to lose?
- Build relationships. Along those lines, the first three months are a perfect time to be intentional about building both personal and professional relationships. Reach out to people for curiosity conversations – basically grown-up informational interviews – to learn about their paths and stories. Say yes to coffee and lunch invites and reciprocate in kind. I made one of my best friends as a young professional when we realized we were the only two in our organization who were the same age. We went on a friend date, unsure if we had anything in common, immediately hit it off, and now have a twenty-year friendship. Say yes to people who are extending a hand your way. Chances are they’re looking for a friend too.
- Ask for help. Finally, just like with your career, don’t be afraid to ask people for help with the life things. We all need other people to help us to be successful, to find meaning and purpose, and to expand our social networks. There is great value in learning from other people’s experiences, in asking how they have managed their time, learned to build community, or even in the smaller details like, where’s the best gym?; or, where do you go to the dentist? Being an adult doesn’t mean going it alone. Not one other person around you has gotten where they are without other people’s help. Ask for guidance and remember to pay it forward when you are able.
Tools and Resources
As you get comfortable in your new community, you won’t need so many resources to help you to find people and to build a life. You will just be living and not actively thinking about it on a day-to-day basis. But that doesn’t mean we all don’t need some help, now and again! Whether you’ve moved to a place where there is a strong Wake Forest alumni community, or someplace where you feel like you’re the only one there, I would like for you to know about some great resources to help you find your place and build a life.
- WAKENetwork (wakenetwork.wfu.edu). This is an online network of Wake Forest alumni, searchable by name, class year, location, and other factors. This is a great first place to look for alumni near you who may share interests or experiences with you. It is also where you want your own information to be up-to-date so you will get invited to Wake Forest events where you live.
- WAKECommunities (wakecommunities.wfu.edu). There are WAKECommunities across the US as well as in the UK, made up of alumni, friends, and parents who want to connect with one another around the Wake Forest experience. Join your local WAKECommunity and look for opportunities to get involved, go to events, and to learn. Here you can celebrate Wake Forest traditions like Love Feast, go to game watching parties, hear from speakers, and volunteer your time and talents.
- Affinity Groups. Several industry and interest-based Affinity Groups cross geographic lines and are great opportunities to get involved with people who have similar interests to you, including women’s issues, veterans, finance, the arts, and many more. These groups are great opportunities to build your professional affiliations as well as to learn about topics of interest to you. Search for these at wakecommunities.wfu.edu as well.
While you should work to expand your network post-college, always remember that the Wake Forest community is here to support you, professionally and personally, on-campus and where you live. This is one of the perks of going to a school like Wake Forest: a vast community of Demon Deacons who want to help you succeed and thrive!