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What I Needed To Hear As I Was Graduating College (maybe you do too!)

In this post, Stephanie shares what she would go back and tell herself while graduating college if she had the chance.
I'm Stephanie May Wilson!

I'm an author and podcaster and my specialty is helping women navigate big decisions, life transitions — creating lives they love.

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My baby sister is graduating college in just a few weeks—a fact that makes me teary with pride. I can’t wait to embarrass her—snapping photos and waving and shouting her name from across a crowded room.

But just like it always does, May and graduation season have me reflecting on this time in my own life. What I was thinking as graduation was approaching, and what I would go back and tell myself if I had the chance.

My answer came while I was on the phone with my sister. It came flooding out as I was dispensing advice it turns out she really didn’t need. But when I was graduating I needed this advice, and maybe you do too.

When you were growing up did you ever make sand art? Not the kind you’d sprinkle over a paper, or glue down, or whatever. But the kind where you fill a fun-shaped bottle with colored sand? I loved doing that. We’d always do it on vacations and my room was always full of pink and purple sand-filled unicorns. I’ve always had a knack for decorating.

The key to a good sand unicorn was the funnel. You needed a good funnel—nice and fat at the top, and skinny enough at the bottom to fit into the hole in the unicorn’s head. It’s a science, really.

That funnel is what I picture when I think of graduation.

“Picture that funnel,” I told my sister. “The fat end is graduation, and the thin end is your place in the world. You start out wide — having no idea what you’re doing with your life, and then you go through a long process of figuring it out, growing more and more focused the more you learn.”

The biggest misconception I had, and I think we all have, about graduating from college is that we’re supposed to know what we want to do with our lives.

We look around at everyone else and think they all have it figured out. They’re walking straight out of college and into a job—a great salary in one pocket and the approval of everyone’s parents in the other.

We think that’s where we have to be if we’re going to be successful in life. We think we’re the only ones who feel like we’re pin-balling around the fat end of the funnel, having no idea what we’re doing, and moving straight back into our childhood bedroom as soon as our cap and gown are put away.

But what I would tell my graduating self, and what I want to tell you is that that’s normal, in fact, I’d say its great!

Graduating college isn’t the moment you “arrive.” It’s the moment you begin the journey.

It’s not a time of focus and certainty. It’s a time of trying, and failing, and taking a nanny job to pay the bills, or living at home to save some money. It’s a wild game of trial and error and it feels unmoored and totally opposite to what you thought you should be doing upon college graduation.

But it’s this time of pin-balling around, trying and failing and experimenting that gets you to where you want to go. How are you supposed to know what you're good at if you don't try? How are you supposed to know what you're not good at it if you don't fail? Majors and jobs and careers sound great in theory, but until you're at the desk, or in the field, you won't know if it truly is a good fit. Each attempt, each move, each step forward, and then to the side, and then a few steps back gets you closer to where you want to be. It's like a dance more than a sprint forward. But the detours end up being the most powerful parts of the journey.

Bottom line: You aren’t doing it wrong if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. Very few people do.

The only way you can mess this up is to do nothing. 

The only way you’re truly failing is if you’re not trying anything. Because if you’re not trying anything, you’re not learning. You’re not building your resume, or gaining experience, and you’re not getting better at anything.

The goal isn’t to arrive right away, but the goal is to be walking towards the skinny end of the funnel. The goal is to be trying things, and attempting things, and learning things that help you get closer and closer to the place where your skills and interests meet the needs of the world. But to get there, we usually have to bounce around the fat end for awhile.

So as you’re graduating, my prayer for you is that you’d enjoy it. My prayer is that you’d rest, that you’d take some of the pressure off, and that you’d stop believing the lie that you’re falling behind.

My prayer for you is that you’d try and fail, and try something else. That you’d be an active learner, and seeker of a place where you can contribute in the world, and that you’d be graceful with yourself when a certain path doesn’t pan out like you thought it would. But my biggest prayer is that you keep walking. That you keep trying. That you’d keep trying to find a place where you can fit and make the world a better place. Because it’s such a beautiful thing when you do, and your arrival is made so much better by the journey it took to get you there.

If you've already graduated — whether it was last year or 20 years ago — I'd love to hear the advice you have for this year's grads! Pop your thoughts in the comments below. I can't wait to hear!

P.S. If you're feeling uncertain about your future in this season, I would love to share my prayer journal, The Between Places, with you!

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In this post, Stephanie shares what she would go back and tell herself while graduating college if she had the chance.

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  1. Shae tate says:

    Hey Stephanie! I just started working at Proverbs 31 Ministries in Charlotte, NC and this really encouraged me today 🙂 I loved the part where you talked about failure.. “The only way you can mess this up is to do nothing. The only way you’re truly failing is if you’re not trying anything.” So. So. Good.

    Thank you for sharing! If you ever wanted to collaborate on anything I would love to talk to you! Let us know if we can ever do anything at Proverbs to assist you! Cheering for you as you finish your books! What an accomplishment.

  2. Get out of your comfort zone and earnestly try to join some sort of church organization or small group! After graduation, I realized how difficult it is to meet people anywhere besides out at a bar. This will help you surround yourself with (generally) like-minded friends who can point you back to the cross if you ever need some nudging (see: pushing).

  3. Maddie says:

    Hey there! I wanted to weigh in because I think it is so important for people to not feel alone at any stage of their journeys, and I know there’s lots of girls like me. I didn’t go to college, so I was where most of you are right now, four years earlier. After graduation, not sure what’s next, or living in the frailty of a human world even if you do have something set knowing things change fast, leave us feeling so very uncertain.
    First I want to just say- trust the Father! He knows what He’s doing. I scrambled to get my life together because I didn’t have much of an answer for people when they asked. But during the past four or so years, the Lord has continually taught me that that is a wrong perspective, and that by busying myself I was essentially seeking the praise and approval of men, not Him. The other big thing I would say is find a place to pour into. Even if you have the job, living situation, and everything else worked out, your purpose will never come from those things. Seeking satisfaction in what you do is so wrong, at any stage in life. Seek to serve. When you pour out, the Father supernaturally fills you up. It goes against everything the world tells us, that if you give of yourself you’ll just be empty. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There is great joy in being more like Christ, so seek and create those opportunities for yourself!
    Be tender in the hands of the Lord! He will direct your steps!

  4. Erin Walker says:

    This blog post relates to my story after college so well. After graduating in April of 2016, I went through having 5 jobs because each one proved to not be a “good fit” for me personally. I did exactly what Stephanie writes here in her blog, I did all of the trying and failed most of the time. Now…. it’s been one year since graduation and I think I am just now finding my “place” of work doing something everyday that I will enjoy for months and years to come.
    And yes, just as she also writes…. I am still living at home for the soul purpose of SAVING, SAVING, and SAVING some more!

    So, a BIG CONGRATULATIONS on each of your graduations. Give yourself a pat on the back, give someone and yourself a hug. You deserve it! Now the real journey BEGINS!!

  5. Bethany cok says:

    I love this advice! I graduated last year and moved to Guatemala to volunteer with a nonprofit. All my friends stayed in the same state (in most cases, the same city) and a lot of them thought I was crazy–giving up the community I had and any chances of earning a good salary to move to another country to do justice and development work.

    The first year after college isn’t easy, no matter where you find yourself. The biggest piece of advice I’ve got is to be really careful how you define the word “success.” There’s often so much pressure from friends and family and the world to be “successful,” to find your dream job and get paid for it and be in a steady relationship and a whole bunch of other things. But I’ve been learning to redefine “success,” or to throw that whole idea out the window all together.

    Because our main goal isn’t “success,” it’s Jesus. Following Him, taking ourselves off center stage and putting Him there instead. And I’ve been constantly challenged by this since graduating. How this changes our decisions, how this changes us. Because He is so faithful, and He is the only thing in the whole world we should be chasing with all our hearts.

  6. Adriana says:

    The moment after you graduate from college is a very special one indeed for it is a time when most feel very accomplished. Unfortunately, this great feeling is short lived because soon young adults are confronted with many thoughts stemming from the question ” What do I do with my life now?” As a college graduate for almost one year I would say the best advice I would give to someone is build a relationship with God and to learn your “why” before concentrating on your “what”. By this I mean, allow God to show you why you were put on this earth and allow time to discover your purpose in him. If you know why you were made as well as your purpose than what you should be doing with your life will come easily to you, furthermore, making it easier to know the next step to take in life. So to summarize my advice would be know your “why” or purpose and make sure that is clear before you concentrate on what you should do next in your life.

  7. Sarah says:

    One thing I wish I’d known when I graduated from college 7 years ago was how hard those first few years are. All of the sudden, you don’t have all of your friends in walking distance, there aren’t (usually) a bunch of people your age just waiting to hang out, and you have to do all of these adult things like pay bills and clean and grocery shop. It’s just hard to learn how to be an adult and to learn how to be the woman God has created you to be. In my first four years out, I had jobs in 4 different states(on both coasts), had a serious and scary health crisis, and started graduate school. I’m thankful for the friends who promised me that your 20s are tumultuous and that it gets better; the stresses of life don’t get easier, but you do get better at handling them. You don’t have to know everything right now, you just need to know what to do today and maybe have a plan for what you’d like to do next. Find friends who will pray with and for you, whom you can serve and be served by, and who will point you always back to Him.

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