Do you ever end up on a website, only to look up after two hours and find that you’ve actually fallen down a rabbit hole of content? This happened to me recently, while trolling the confines of Humans of New York. While I remain addicted to Humans of New York, there was something about this past trolling that made me more reflective and more life-aware (“life-aware,” is a new concept I am flirting with, pausing and pushing myself to live in the moment – it’s a, “YOLO,” for old people, if you will).
I recently posted a piece addressed to upcoming graduates, and in a love letter-like fashion, challenged all who are taking the plunge to, above all else, pause and reflect.
Though, I must add, you’ve all been fooled.
Well, we’ve all been fooled. In general, graduation is scary and terrifying and real, and following my post, I received quality feedback from friends and colleagues who assured me that they, too, were still grappling with some of the moments I highlighted in the piece. And some, even ten or so years later. The transition is ongoing, and if we can fully embrace this reality, it doesn’t come as such a slap in the face. You see, graduation can seem like an “end” for many people. And it certainly did for me. I remember standing in front of my entire community of friends, family, and university staff, all in attendance for my graduation reception, and sobbing mid-speech because it hit me in that very moment that my college days had ended.
And mistakenly, I assumed college ending also meant the end of gaining knowledge, making tough decisions, having fun, celebrating with friends, and the list went on and on. But as I have grown older, and now a few years from being a decade away from college, I am realizing that these moments appear much differently than how I was socialized as an undergraduate. And the learning and life-having exists outside of the safe bubble that higher education often provides. Needless to say, some new feels are hitting me today, and to honor my HONY time-suck, let’s begin here:
“When I was 20, I made a plan to get a good job and be secure. Now I’m 35, and I need a plan to be happy.”
Now, I will not be addressing the happiness piece too deeply, as I am finding happiness to be incredibly subjective and contextual (and have actually felt this way for a long time). I will note, however, as graduation nears for many (and nostalgia rears its head for the rest of us has-beens), life-awareness and self-awareness are more important than ever. The post above hit me hard, and caused a hailstorm of “ah-ha” moments to follow. With the help of my Humans of New York binge, please pause and consider the following post-graduation (and general life) permissions:
Permission to be You
“We’d been having a sort of tacit conversation about it for a couple years. Then one day, his sister, who already knew, was teasing him about having a crush on a boy at school. And I heard him say: ‘Well, maybe it’s true!’ So I said: ‘Son, we’ve never really talked about this. Are you gay?’ And even though he was 6’4”, he came over to me, curled up in my lap and just sobbed and sobbed. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life, actually.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Michael Anthony Goodman post without some sense of, “live your truth” (and associated demands). But I believe this, and with all of my heart. You see, (most) colleges and universities foster a phenomenal space to be brave and free. Consequently, not every space inside that brave zone shares this same value, and many students will graduate college still feeling as though they were not able to be their true self (fraternities/sororities, student government, athletics, just to name a few sub-environments). Sometimes we need to be a 6’4” closet-case, and to curl up on someone’s lap and sob and sob (metaphorically or literally, and on any or all accounts). If you are itching to be your true self in/as whoever you may be, and you don’t feel you can be that wonderful and beautiful you in college, know that your time and permission is coming.
Permission to Take a Coffee Break
“I’m working from 8 AM to 8 AM. But I do get a coffee break.”
Graduation often brings a sense of wanting to prove yourself. I remember my first job out of college, I worked early morning to early evening, volunteered for nearly every special event, and talked work/task/project with my colleagues at any given moment. It was obsessive. And sadly, this habit is (was) hard to break. Even within the past five years, I often have to stop myself when I’m out with friends, as for many, the last thing they want to hear or talk about is work. And the hours are part of that stability, as well. Professionals cite this as, “work/life balance,” and I just like to view it as life. Sometimes you’re going to work and talk work from 8AM-8PM, and sometimes a coffee brake is enough. But you have to give yourself that coffee break. Take that coffee break.
Permission to be Shirtless
“We’re doing an annual fun and sexy memorial run for our friend Joe. Joe’s still alive though. He’s actually perfectly healthy. We’re just trying to raise awareness for him. Awareness of Joe.”
“So wait, are you raising money for something?”
“Nope. Just raising sexy.”
Before you strip down and blame me for your indecency, pause. There is something really liberating about shedding your insecurities, or coming together in community. The shirt can be real or representative of something you need to let go of – and either way, let it go. Have fun, build community, celebrate the people in your life. And above all else, feel sexy and free. Losing my hair, finding greys in my beard, and having to work out twice as hard to achieve what I want for my body are all quite exhausting. And confidence is essential. And I’m working on this every single day. Lose your “shirt,” gain your worth, and dare to be a bit more wild, spontaneous, and free.
Permission to be Random
“I love her randomness.”
“Tell me about a time she was random.”
“Three hours ago. I went to pick her up, and I found her double-dutching on the sidewalk with some kids. Then she went inside and came out wearing this.”
First, if ever given the chance to double-dutch, get your ass out there and jump that rope. When I was a kid, I could do a round-off back-handspring into a turning rope – it was awesome, and it always shocked people. Go, shock people. Be random, surprise those around you, and most of all, have fun. Date people, and reconnect. Be present, wear many hats, and be exciting at every stop. There is nothing more boring than a person from whom you know exactly what you are going to get. And go on dates. Seriously, go on lots of dates as a young adult.
Permission to Self-Doubt
“When I told my mom that I was going to rehab, she was about to catch a flight to her 40th High School Reunion. I told her: ‘I guess you won’t be bragging about me to your friends.’ She said: ‘Actually, I’ve never been prouder of you.’”
If I have learned anything in the past decade, it’s that we don’t always see in ourselves what others see in us. Additionally, and more times than not, our own perception of self is often much harsher or more critical than how others see us. And this is more than a confidence moment. It’s about courage. Have the courage to step back and critically evaluate your current reality. And beyond that, examine who you have in your corner – even the ones you thought you might be disappointing most. Have the courage to give yourself some grace. You deserve grace.
Permission to Invent a Fart Gun
“I’m going to be an inventor. I already have some good ideas.”
“Oh yeah? What are they?”
“I had an idea for an electronic cigarette with a whatchamacallit in it that makes mist so you feel like you’re smoking but you really aren’t. And also a toothbrush where you put the toothpaste in the bottom and it comes out the top when you’re brushing.”
“Those are some solid ideas. Anything else?”
“A fart gun.”
Sometimes a first job can often feel stifling. And for those who have a huge imagination, please remember, you are not defined by your ability or inability to create. Never, ever, lose your sense of wonder (and yes, in the most, I-hope-you-dance-and-feel-small-by-an-ocean, kind of way). Furthermore, never lose your sense of wander. Be silly. Have fun. Explore and create. And dream. One of the best things a potential employer or supervisor can tell you is, “It’s okay to dream here.” And when you get to dream, allow yourself to also create, and fight for the opportunity to create. Sometimes places don’t realize they are stifling someone’s creativity, and all they need is for that person to speak up and say, “Hey, I want to try to make this happen.” And then, make it happen.
When I started this piece, I noted, “you’ve/we’ve been fooled.” And the more I think about this assertion, perhaps we’ve only fooled ourselves.
Is post-graduation really the “end?”
Is a “dream job” and “dream hours” and “dream scenario” shortly after graduation fair or realistic?
Is this just?
Are we talking about grace?
I graduated college seven years ago, and I still wrestle with these questions even today. I still get choked up, just as I was standing before my friends and family, balling my eyes out. I still wonder if I’m good enough to take on the world, and brave enough to be my true self in this big, scary universe. But I’m hopeful. And I’m scared. But most of all, I’m hopeful – for both you and me. And I am confident that, if you give yourself enough credit/grace/positive energy, you, too, can beautifully navigate through this transition.
You don’t always get a map. And sometimes the map you do get isn’t any good anyway.
*Photos have been pulled from Humans of New York… get lost.