Courtesy of Rachel Bernstein
- Rachel Bernstein graduated college last May and is Insider’s editorial partnerships and awards fellow.
- She had no idea what to expect from post-grad life other than what she saw in movies and heavily-edited Insta posts.
- Making older friends, traveling solo, and making the best of an “in between” job have helped her navigate the past year.
In late September of last year, I found myself in tears on a soccer field at a college I had once attended, tucked in the not-always-lush hills of Los Angeles.
I’d just gotten rejected from a job that I would have been perfect for, and it put my rejections and job “ghostings” in the triple digits — after applying to over 200 roles.
Maybe it was all the rejection, or maybe it was the exodus of friends to their bright futures in places around the country — though I was quite happy for them — but post-grad life was in no way what I’d been expecting.
When I finally did get my job at Insider in October, I found out just before boarding a plane to Washington D.C. — a trip that I had organized for the sole purpose of it being my “eat, pray, love” trip. Funded by my tutoring gig, it was meant to be a sort of reprieve from the daily stresses of job applications.
As the eldest child and grandchild in my family, I had no idea what to expect from post-grad life
I only knew what I had seen in movies, heard from my parents and grandparents, or seen in heavily-edited Instagram posts from older classmates. But the harsh reality I found, exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic, was likely not one that my parents or grandparents could understand.
These days, I don’t think that I’m an expert on post-grad life. I’m one of the newest additions to the whole club. But I think I’ve learned a bit since I graduated last May.
Here are five things I’ve realized that I wish I knew sooner.
1. Most of your friends are lonely, too
My post-grad friendships were stronger and healthier than ever before, but there was no substitute for the in-person moments I’d had in school — which, as a transfer and commuter in college, were in short supply.
But I realized my peers were lonely too. Maybe they were doing long distance with their partner; maybe their work was remote. Every single conversation I’ve had with friends danced around the same dominant emotion of loneliness, no matter where they were living or how cool the adventure seemed on Instagram.
The consensus was clear: The kids weren’t totally alright.
Have people been lonely after graduation for decades? Absolutely. But the truncated college experience is also to blame. I try not to complain; it was due to the way that my college experience happened that I met the people I did. But if there had been more time on-campus, there would’ve been stronger relationships and more people to meet instead of awkward Zoom breakout rooms.
2. Your ‘in-between’ job might teach you more than you expected
My first job out of college was working with children and teaching them how to read at a center in a strip mall in LA. I’d been so fixated on how the pandemic affected young adults socially — perhaps selfishly — that I’d been totally blind to how children suffered academically.
I’d never tutored before, but it felt like the most worthwhile place to be before I started my career. For five months I got to be silly, a welcome change from having to be buttoned-up in interviews. I got to speak to kids in our second language — Hebrew — and remember what I loved about elementary school and what I hated about middle school.
When job searching, it’s easy to feel like you’re the center of attention, but it was a reminder to let that selfishness fall away.
3. It’s smart to make friends who are older than you
After I started meeting friends at various gatherings in LA, I realized that a lot of my potential new BFFs were a number of years older than me. At first, I was stuck on the fact that we were in different places in life — they were planning for marriage and settling into successful careers; I was planning a first date and reading “How to Start a Career for Dummies.”
But as I talked to them more, I slowly found the value in making friends older than myself. They had “been there, done that” and knew the unique emotional rollercoaster that your early 20s can be. I could ask them for advice, from how they met the love of their life to how they took on the city when they were right out of college.
The author, Rachel Bernstein.
Courtesy of Rachel Bernstein
4. A solo trip can be transformative.
I absolutely adore solo travel (and have written about it for Insider). It’s a great way to know yourself and to learn how to navigate a crisis on your own (like a diverted flight) or how to operate through a city at your own speed (my personal choice: breakneck).
Experiencing it solo taught me that this is the time in your life to do it, when your baggage — the physical and the metaphorical — isn’t quite as heavy.
5. Everyone is in different spaces
Young people like me who were in the COVID cohort have similar holes in our experience. We don’t know office etiquette all that well (though we know Zoom etiquette a little too well), our professional network is smaller, and we’re all a little bit emotionally scarred after having to pack up and go from campus in March 2020.
But we’re all in different spaces. Some took a gap year after graduation; some are on their way to their next degree. Some are sifting through Indeed and LinkedIn for a job, and some have already set up their own office at work.
Of course, there’s some FOMO, but there is actually something valuable about it all. It’s an opportunity to learn more, and to figure out what you want out of your own future.