It seems like just yesterday, I was frantically writing the last of my undergraduate papers, studying for final exams, ordering my cap and gown, planning to move out of my beautiful apartment on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C., and preparing to walk across the stage and collect my diploma. Not only did commencement day arrive, but my time as a college student also concluded in May 2009.
The day of graduation was a blur. Family came in from out of town; people were coming and going from my one bedroom apartment; and I was trying to keep it together and trying to recall how the best four years of my life could be over already. As a transfer student, it took me a while to get used to living on my own in a city, being at a larger school where I became a small fish in a big pond, and making new friends all over again. And then, just as I had felt like I was finally settled in my surroundings, it was time to pack my bags. Four years had passed in the blink of an eye, and the political science major who had been so intent on attending law school, was burnt out and unsure of her next move.
After the ceremony, I returned to my apartment to change out of my graduation regalia and into more suitable lunch attire with my family. In a brief moment of silence, I stood in my kitchen and began to cry. That morning marked the last time I would be on The American University campus as a student; the last time I would see classmates that I had become accustomed to engaging with regularly; and the last time I would be considered a college “student.” I was suddenly a graduate and I felt totally unprepared for the promotion.
The days after graduation were spent mainly on I-95, as I moved out of my apartment and completed many trips back and forth between D.C. and Long Island. If the reality hadn’t hit me on Graduation Day, it certainly did when I moved the last box out of the first place I had on my own.
The years after graduating from American University were nothing like I had planned out in my head. Instead of taking a year off and attending law school the following fall, I had discarded that aspiration entirely. The first year out of school, I struggled to not only find a full-time job (thanks to the 2008 recession), but I also had no clue what I wanted to do, would be good at, or would enjoy. One full year after graduating, I finally landed a full-time job working in fundraising for a law school on Long Island. At the time, it was far from my dream job, but today, I look back fondly on that role; the people I worked with; the skills I learned; and the friends I made there that I still keep in touch with to this day.
The last decade has felt like a marathon that I had been trying to sprint through. There was a marriage, a thyroid cancer diagnosis, a few job changes, the passing of a dear friend and mentor, the creation of a blog, a career change, a move, a divorce, a dream job, personal and professional fulfillment…and eventually happiness.
When I was standing in my D.C. kitchen that day—sobbing after graduation—I couldn’t have imagined what my life would look like ten years from then. Even if I could have, so many things occurred that were out of my control.
If I have learned anything in the past ten years, it is this:
- There will be ups and downs in life. Everyone has them. It’s not how long they last, but how you choose to handle them.
- It’s okay not to know, not to like something, and not to want to do it anymore. You can change your mind, change your direction, and change your life at any time.
- Finding your voice, your passion, and your fulfillment in life takes time. But it is time well spent.
My friend who passed away used to say, “delaying, diverting, or discarding one’s aspirations is not a tragedy, it is part of growing up.” Ten years ago, I would have called that failure. Today, I call it progress.