Last year – probably sometime in November – my parents came to visit me. I was going through a rough time, trying to make some decisions, unhappy in some aspects of life, lost and confused in others. We sat outside at Luna’s, my favorite little vegan restaurant in Charlotte, and I told them everything. Told them about my unhappiness, about my complete lack of direction, about my frustration with my current situation. And I distinctly remember telling them, “I just need to go through that time where I’m young and I’m on my own and I have to figure everything out for myself. I’ll be lonely, and it will be hard, but I just know that I need to live through it”.
So over the past year, each time I had a small mental breakdown, or began to sob over the fact that I’ll most likely die alone surrounded by cats, or start to panic over the prospect of returning from my trip and moving back in with my parents and working at Stop & Shop, I had to laugh. Because I asked for this. I needed it. And I was right.
Here’s a little tip about most people’s first year out of college: it sucks.
For many people, of course, this may not be the case. You may be loving your job, in a stable relationship, in a city you adore, with a budget that you successfully manage and a complete absence of any vices. Just know that the rest of us hate you a little bit. (KIDDING. sort of.)
But here’s another tip for anyone going through that struggle: it gets better.
In the past year, I’ve gained a better understanding of who I am and what I want. I’ve learned how to better control my emotions, how to take care of myself physically and mentally, and how to be happily single (there’s no dummies manual; someone should look into writing that). I certainly don’t have everything figured out; many days I feel lost, unstable, scared. I’m still figuring out this whole adult thing. Truth be told, I have suffered no fewer than three intense bouts of “ugly cry” over the past week. But in case anyone needs to hear it, here are a few things I have figured out that could potentially help to navigate this scary, exciting, frustrating time:
Get to know yourself. This sounds silly, yes. But honestly: figure out what makes you tick. Pay attention to the way you react to certain situations. Pay attention to when you’re happy, when you’re sad, when you’re kind, when you’re mean. Notice if there are things you want to change. As my mom always says, the first step in dealing with something is noticing it and acknowledging it. You’re not going to wake up and tomorrow and be perfect. But self-knowledge makes life more manageable.
Be good to yourself. So there are some things you want to change? Fine, good. Work on them. But don’t be so hard on yourself. Give yourself patience. Learn self-compassion. Always be proud of yourself. None of us really have our shit together. It’s okay. And take good care of yourself physically. You’re not in college anymore. Get more than five hours of sleep; eat healthy, whole foods; move your body a few times a week; get out and live.
Keep your friends and family close. You’re not alone. You have a support system. And they know you pretty well. Cherish these relationships. Make the effort to keep in touch. It’s hard; do it anyways.
Get out of the house; stay in. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year has been how to balance social time and “me” time. I go through phases: oftentimes I become a hermit, and then I remember how nice it is to be around people. Learn that you are not lame for staying in on a Saturday; likewise, learn not to alienate yourself.
Practice Gratitude. Gratitude is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets (interested in this concept? read this book). Take time every day — maybe before a meal, maybe in the morning, maybe at night — to cultivate gratitude. There is always, always, always something to be grateful for.
Do things that scare you. Don’t be afraid to make a change. This does not mean quitting your job and running halfway across the world [but it can!]. It may mean taking up a new hobby, introducing yourself to a cute guy, trying yoga for the first time, or asking for more responsibility at your job. Don’t get complacent. Don’t be held back by what you think society expects from you.
These suggestions will not solve all your issues. Life never gets easy; if it does, let me know so I can come live in your pool house. But when you’re not in college anymore, and you aren’t surrounded by friends and social opportunities 24/7, you have to take ownership of your own happiness. Of course, part of me wants to tell people to start practicing yoga every day and doing all of the things that have made me happy, but I have also learned that we are all different. We all have different needs. Once we learn what ours are, we get one step closer to fulfilling them.
And if all else fails, go look at pictures of Ryan Gosling, blast some Beyonce, have a dance party in your house, and remember that one day, you’ll wake up, and you’ll feel happy exactly where you are. Until then, just enjoy the ride. It’s the only one you’ll get.