My creative writing degree prepared me more for my 20s than I realized it would.
With so many of my sweet friends walking through the first months after college graduation, and even with my own continued journey through my 20s, my mind has been somersaulting over what makes this season of life seem so difficult for so many people. The post-college transition is hard. At least, it was for me. The conclusion that I have come to is that all other major transitions in my life had been baby steps, specifically through the previous four years of transitions encompassed in the high school to college realm.
My transition from high school to freshman year of college was one of the best things for me — I was removed from small school senior year drama and was put in a place where I had the chance to make a new “image” for myself. Thanks to going to small school (most of our 14-person class had been together since fifth grade), my identity seemed to fit in this little box that I couldn’t seem to break out of – it was who everyone assumed I was, and who even I assumed I was. I was always the brainy kid who competed in academic events such a spelling bees and math competitions. I played every sport. I enjoyed school. Despite my performance-based identity, though, I was insecure in my own skin. College was my chance to rediscover my interests, my passions, my personality, and I found freedom in not being expected to act a certain way or dress a certain way or be a part of a certain group.
Freshman year was an opportunity for discovering community – finding kindred-spirit friends and being loved for the “me” I had bravely begun to live out.
Sophomore year was about slightly stepping out of my freshman year comfort zone to live in a new dorm with a new roommate and to initiate with freshmen students who lived in my dorm. I started to learn to not find security in one single group of friends, but to instead become friends with a variety of people.
Junior year and living off campus found me learning to “become an adult,” per say. One who budgets and grocery shops and pays electric bills and loads a dishwasher, whether or not the dishes are hers. With a check coming each semester from the university (as a part of my scholarship), and roommates to share the load with, and parents who gave me gas money when I needed it.
Senior year allowed me to learn about priorities and decisions. Three roommates, plus leadership and commitments with a campus ministry, plus upper-level classes, plus an honors thesis, plus a boyfriend (which I was not planning on) all led to figuring out the best ways to manage my time (skip class to go out to lunch or attend class and reschedule lunch?) and how to make what were some early life-changing decisions (such as, do I even want to date this boy?). I felt the pressure of the real world right around the corner, and I feel moments of that weight, but overall the cushion of college and certainty in the next day’s activities was still there.
Then I graduated college, and it was no longer about baby steps.
I started working full-time the week before graduation while my roommates prepared for grad school by taking the summer off. Friends moved away, whether across the state or across the world. The university stopped sending me checks for housing and food; I had to figure out how to live on my salary and say “no” if I couldn’t afford to eat out again that week. The community I had built within the college ministry disappeared, and I had to start from scratch. No longer were we classified by our age, but by our stage of life: single, married, married with kids. Grad school, part-time job, full-time job, internship. Passionate about work or still trying to figure out what to be when we grew up. (I was in the latter category of that one, by the way.)
No longer was I pursued by older students or campus ministry staff. No longer was every conversation intentional and filled with questions from both parties. No longer was it convenient to “live life” together. Everything required planning in advance, managing time, and non-flexible work schedules. Overtime work wasn’t optional. Long-distance friendships weren’t as easy as we hoped they would be. I got kicked off my parents’ insurance and had to learn about co-pays and deductibles and HSA options. I had to find my own dentist and doctor and hairdresser instead of scheduling those back home in accordance with school breaks and weekend trips.
Sweet friend, do you feel the pressure to have it all figured out right away, that you should be able to quickly bounce back to “normal”?
Because this post-undergrad phase is not a pass-fail situation.
It’s not win/lose.
Like much of life, it’s a process.
Writing is something I would say I am passionate about. I love watching letters and words come together to tell stories and provoke emotion and provide experiential wisdom. I love playing with paragraphs breaking on a page the way a child enjoys building dams and watching creek water split against new rocks. Poetry is not my chosen profession or even my preferred written expression, but my honors thesis is one of the things I am most proud of in terms of my academic accomplishments.
I vividly remember evenings on my Park House front porch listening to the chirp of crickets, scanning the trees for glimpses of lightning bugs, and examining the delicate shape of helicopter seeds. I would hand-jot notes, phrases, synonyms, sounds transcribed into words. (Onomatopoeia was a favorite concept among our poetry workshop class.) My workstation would then move inside to my desk, fingers typing words in hope that rhythm and music came from letters and spoken sounds.
In workshop the next day though, that poem would be analyzed. Entire lines would be crossed out, sentence structure rearranged, and concepts deemed as cliche. I would not have to start from scratch, but it felt close enough, and I would leave deflated.
But that’s often what it means to be a writer. And as someone who loves writing and wants to cultivate it, I have to accept that fact. If you are an architect, or a social media marketer, or any other profession whose work does not involve set formulas to be followed, then you probably understand this, too. Write, rewrite, rearrange, edit, rewrite. You don’t write a final draft on a first try, and you can’t do it on your own.
What if life – the “real world” – is this same type of process?
Take risks. You never know what works until you try it.
Don’t be afraid of criticism. It helps you see weakness you can’t see on your own. In fact, ask for feedback from others.
Take notes. Whether it is an interview or a job or a new friendship, always have an attitude of learning and observing and question-asking.
Let go of the pressure (less likely others-originated and more than likely self-imposed) to succeed, to make all A’s, and to figure it out right away.
Three years in, I can’t say that I always know what I am doing, but I can look back and see growth. I am closer now than I have previously been to understanding myself and how I am wired and what God might have for me. I feel more daring now than I did the day after I walked across the stage in my cap and gown, and yet I feel more certain now that I don’t have it all figured out. That uncertainty keeps me running back to God with questions, and it keeps me leaning on Him.
Each day is a step in the journey, and each season brings with it a new workshop activity to help edit and revise this creative work being written as the story of my life.
I pray that if you are walking through this, as well, you will not be discouraged by the process, but allow yourself to learn and develop and seek God wholeheartedly, since He’s the author of this whole shebang anyway.