Graduation is an exciting time. The parties, the job hunts, the liberation from lectures. Oh! And the sleep! Praise God for the extra sleep.
The big bad real world comes barreling in. Dun dun dun.
Life after graduation can be a difficult pill to swallow. The change of responsibilities and the influx of independence can be jarring. Learning the ropes of the workplace can be exhausting. The hunt for new friends in new places can be discouraging. Oh! And the emails! There are so. Many. More. Emails.
Unlike most missionaries, I went straight into the real world after graduating college — I mean, as “real” as Los Angeles can be. I left the University of Texas, where I had been immersed in a solid Catholic community, and quickly found myself alone in the world’s most dog-eat-dog city. I had friends, sure; but I didn’t have people invested in my walk with Christ. I didn’t have people who cared if I was praying or going to Mass. I was all alone in the things that mattered most to me, and the spiritual isolation eventually wore on me.
“You are what you eat.” “You become who you surround yourself with.” “You practice the way you play.” We’ve heard all these phrases before. They’re oh-so-cheesy, but oh-so-true. Don’t think that just because your relationship with Jesus is rocking and rolling right now that it’s fireproof in the future. The activities we do, the people we hang with, the habits we form, everything affects who we become — for better or for worse.
Therefore, as you leave college behind, it’s vital that you put yourself in the best possible situation to become the best possible version of yourself. If college gave you the tools to become a saint, then now is the time to put those tools into practice. Here are the lessons I wish someone would have told me before leaving UT.
Invest in Community
We are communal beings. Plain and simple. We aren’t meant to walk with Christ alone. Even without sin running amok in the world, the first thing God noticed about man was that it wasn’t good for him to be alone. Think about that! How much more do we need solid community with sin in the world!?
There’s never an easier time to find solid community than when you’re in college. Unfortunately, though, there’s no Newman Center in the real world. The local parish in your community is a great place to start. Finding fellow believers to walk with takes work and time, but it’s vital to do so in order to live out your faith post-graduation. Sometimes it may require money to put yourself in situations where you can find such people. If so, spend it. Other times, it may require reworking your schedule. If so, carve out the time. Don’t stop searching until you find like-minded and like-hearted people.
When I was moving a few years ago, I had to choose between two housing options. The first was a Malibu mansion where I’d be living right off the beach and literally next door to A-list actors. I’d only be living with two other people, and I’d have a giant pool with a waterfall. It was straight fire. The second option was a small, rundown house next door to a former brothel. I’d be living with five other dudes and paying more rent than the first option for less space. Those five dudes, however, were genuinely pushing each other toward Christ. I chose to invest in the second option, sacrificing my money and space, and it ended up being one of the better decisions I’ve ever made. They helped rekindle my faith, ultimately leading me to becoming a FOCUS missionary.
Remember Your Priorities
College can be difficult. There’s a ton of pressure to excel in school, to stand out from the crowd, to take care of yourself without your parents’ help, etc. However, college is a slice of cake compared to the real world.
After you leave the bubble of your university, you’re not just competing with people your age. You’re competing with everyone from all ages. Despite popular belief, there’s not a different party happening every night. Not even in Los Angeles. Sorry to disappoint, but you can’t just roll out of bed and wear whatever all day.
With an increase in responsibility comes an increase in the temptation to believe that your faith doesn’t always have to be your number one priority. When you’re handling other people’s money — or simply trying to stay afloat with your own — it can be tempting to think that your main priority is that big deadline coming up. Don’t buy into that. Don’t sacrifice your prayer life. For anything or anyone! No job, no audition, no boss is worth it.
Saint Francis de Sales once said, “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer every day, except when we are busy — then we need an hour.”
Lock in your faith as your top priority, and then throw away the key. Make up your mind that you won’t jeopardize your time with Jesus. Your world revolves around your relationship with him, not the other way around. As in all relationships, setting up boundaries will help protect your time with God. Guard your time together like a tabernacle guards his presence.
Your Work is Not Just Your Work
The campus was your mission field for four years. Likewise, your new workplace is your new mission field. You have such an awesome opportunity coming up to be a transformative presence in the secular world!
We often talk about redemptive suffering, but we often forget to talk about its flip side — redemptive participation. Just as Christ invites us into his sufferings, he invites us into his life. His joys, his ministry and yes, his work, are all ours to participate in. When we work, we can unite our daily tasks to Jesus to help transform not only our workplace but also our very selves.
Jesus worked diligently and silently up until he was thirty years old. His work was never just work, though. Each task was a chance for him to grow in discipline and virtue. Likewise, your work is a chance for you to grow as a person.
Life after college is mostly mundane and repetitive. “Living for the weekend” can become a real temptation. In college, there’s always something going on, be it a football game, church event, improv show, etc. Don’t check out when your schedule suddenly looks monotonous. Your work is a gift, a daily opportunity to cultivate your relationship with God and others. Dive in.
Cling to Your Identity
It’s a fairly even playing field in college. Sure, basic social hierarchies and academic accolades help people to stand out. The real world, though, is a free-for-all.
You’ll see peers rise to the top of their fields before you. You’ll see friends get married, buy houses and start families before you. You’ll see friends travel the world and randomly become world-famous models before you.
Well, maybe you won’t experience that last one. The point is, if your identity isn’t firmly rooted, then the comparison game will destroy you. You’ll feel perennially behind and stuck in constant anxiety. Know your identity and root it as deeply into your heart as you can. Let the roots of your sonship or daughterhood with God wrap around your heart and penetrate your innermost being. No matter what happens to you, no matter the successes of your peers, you are infinitely valuable and uniquely unrepeatable. Cling to that truth.