365 Days Later: Expectations and Realities of Post Grad Life

“With the authority vested in me, I confer upon you the degrees recommended by your faculty. You now enjoy all the rights and responsibilities of those degrees!”

It has been one year since I heard President Amy Gutmann declare those words at my college commencement, meaning my undergraduate degree had been conferred and I was an official college graduate. One year and wow what a year it has been. This post, is going to chronicle some of the challenges this year has thrown my way versus the idea of what post grad life would be. The idea I graduated with 365 days ago. I share these stories not only because they taught me so much in my first year but because I hope seeing how vastly different this year went for me will give you some laughs along with alleviating some of the pressures that (at least I know I felt) come after graduation.

THE VISION: Post-Grad Expectations
Maybe it’s the fact that I watch way too much Friends and How I Met Your Mother, but I always imagined post-grad life as a time when you get an apartment in a city that you love and work and hang out with friends who help you bumble through your twenties. Never one to imagine an extremely lavish lifestyle (it wouldn’t be realistic given my career interests) but graduating from Penn I was hopeful I would find something making a solid amount of money that would allow me to pay back some student loans, commit to saving in my rainy day fund, and even start my travel fund stash.

I was pretty sure I had a solid grasp on what kind of work I wanted to do and figured that my education combined with the fact I had worked pretty consistently in some way since I was 12 could help in landing that coveted first job out of college. I knew my path wasn’t one marked by recruiters coming to my school looking for students to fill jobs but rather would require me to do the work finding opportunities and advocating on my own behalf.

Lastly, while I knew by no means is the word stability often associated with your twenties, I was looking forward to decompressing. After all, college threw me its fair share of curveballs so I was confident having handled those (even if moderately well) I would be able to figure things out.

THE REALITY:
End of May – July
Like many recent graduates, I graduated school without a job offer and into the harrowing silence of job hunting. I had an excel worksheet on my computer of all the jobs I had applied to and (to this day) never heard from any of them. I actually was always more grateful when a organization actually took the time to respond to my application even to say I was not being considered because at least I knew something.

I was lucky though, by the end of May I had an opportunity. I had been offered an AmeriCorps VISTA job — if I decided to take it I would be doing a year of service in the work I wanted to. The only caveat was the salary which was a stipend set at the poverty level, the norm for AmeriCorps positions. I went into planning mode: I estimated my expenses, planned on keeping my part-time coaching job, and talked with my family to get their opinions. I ended up taking the job and while I definitely have stronger convictions about paying people for the work they do — I wouldn’t really change a thing.  The rest of that last summer went fairly quickly. I spent my days doing relatively little and my evenings coaching and spending time with family — a welcomed change from college. By the time the end of July came around I was ready to get back to work and start my AmeriCorps position.

August- October
August 3rd gave me my first fun post-grad adventure. I was just getting into a good routine at my job and that next day I was leaving for an extended weekend with my sister to celebrate her 25th birthday — to say I was excited was an understatement.
But around 9:15pm, less than 24 hours before I was supposed to sit on a plane to sunny Miami, while I was listening to Rachel Maddow and cleaning up after dinner I somehow sliced my toe while closing a drawer had to go to the hospital for stitches. Now, I’ve always been clumsy — to the point where one of my nicknames from my mom comes from me routinely falling as a child — so my parents were less shocked that this happened but more shocked that I managed to do it less than 15 minutes after we had all been sitting together. Looking back I laugh at my Dad’s reaction when I called him up from the basement asking him to get a band-aid. I ended up with 4 stitches on my foot and a reminder from the doctor that this meant no water and no sand in Miami.

In September things went south…twice. My computer (which was no stranger to causing my heartache) died, and my DSLR camera got water damage while I was shooting through a plastic covering at Made In America. Between the two, I was looking at having to spend about $700 in repairs. Something that my VISTA stipend didn’t exactly cover. I spent more time on the phone with Apple and Cannon in that month than I ever expected too.

But even with those challenges, the highlight had to be October. Towards the end of September I started to feel not so great. I’m terrible at taking off of work (a trait I inherited from my Dad) and figured it was just a cold so it was no big deal. Still, by the third day of having a consistent fever of 103 degrees (which required two days off of work and a third where I was sent home) I started thinking I should visit a doctor. The fun part was, I hadn’t set up a doctor yet after coming home from school so I found the closest urgent care and went to explain my symptoms. The most they could tell me was they thought I had a minor UTI so they prescribed me some medicine and I left. Strangely, the fevers didn’t stop, I could barely eat due to the medicine I was taking, and frankly I just looked awful so my Mom (working the magic that mom’s have) got me an actual doctor’s appointment which is where I learned that it wasn’t a UTI, it was mono.

I actually laughed at my Doctor when she told me, I told her it wasn’t possible that I had mono…I stopped chuckling when she informed me that “you can catch mono the same way you catch the flu, it’s just a viral infection”. Somehow I had evaded mono throughout high school and college only to get it within my first 6 months of working. Moreover, there’s no antibiotics that treat mono she just suggested I take some time off work, drink lots of water, and rest. While to some this sounds like a perfect vacation to me all three of those are things I struggle with (immensely) none of them are my favorite.

November – February
November and December passed fairly quickly and quietly. I picked up extra coaching shifts and spent most of my free time at the pool. It wasn’t bad but it was exhausting. 2017 was ending and with it I couldn’t have been more relieved. But January brought a new challenge with the Government Shutdown looming. As a vista, I am technically paid by the federal government so if they’re not open payroll doesn’t get processed. While the shutdown didn’t last long at all it was definitely an interesting experience to on one hand want the shutdown to happen and on the other want my paycheck to come as scheduled.

February was both the best and worst month. A lifelong Eagles fan, watching them win the Superbowl was something I’ll never forget. The fact that it happened over the Patriots just made it even sweeter (and I let go of some of the resentment of Superbowl XXXIX). But work chaos was ensuing which resulted in a member leaving the program and on top of that I (by the end of the month) was breaking out in what looked like hives. I mean, there were at least 4 pendulum swings that month in 28 very fast/very long days.

March – beginning of May: Bed Bug, Fleas, and Blown Out Tires.
With everything going on: all the highs; the lows; and the in-betweens it wasn’t long before March was here and I knew I needed to start looking towards next steps for after my service year. But focusing on anything besides the bumps I had appearing was seemingly impossible. I’ve always had sensitive skin, rashes and reactions have been apart of my life since my first bath with Mr. Bubble 20 years ago. However, in all that time I’ve never been able to pinpoint what exactly causes me to break out so it has always just been trial and error. Nevertheless, this was something new. At one point my entire left wrist was swollen, these hives/welts both itched and hurt and made sleeping at night relatively impossible. For about two weeks I was consistently taking benadryl (usually with a cup of coffee as to not fall asleep at work) and my family was convinced they were stress hives so if I could just relax they would go away. (If you’ve ever told me to relax or let things go you might be able to guess how well this turned out). It wasn’t until about March 15th, 3 weeks after this had started that we were able to identify what it was: bed bugs.

Before finding out I had bed bugs I had done just about everything I could think of: change my sheets, clean my room, even throw away unnecessary things I was holding on to. If you’ve never had bed bugs, I hope you never do because I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. I didn’t have many — it was far from an infestation but there were about 5 of them and they were making my life hell. I ended up having to throw away my bed frame (since we couldn’t be sure more hadn’t buried into the wooden frame I had) and get a new mattress.

I wish I could say the bites completely stopped after that, but as my luck would have it my cats also got fleas at some point. So there was a whole week when my parents and I were getting flea bites. After a new bed, new flea collars, two cat baths, and two room bug bombs later it was sometime in April. While I can’t even say yet that we are rid of all the bed bugs (they are seriously pesky little creatures) I can tell you that there will be no saying of “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” in my future house.

Then it was May. One year had gone so fast and was filled with so many things that I couldn’t have imagined. Even now, as I’m writing this  a few days before it will go up; I only have the time to do so because one of our tires has blown out and I’m in the car with my family on the side of the road in “Particularly Lumpy Pennsylvania” as it comes up on my Swarm app waiting for AAA — it’s 4:30 in the morning and we’re driving to West Virginia to see my god-brother graduate from college. Nothing from this year has been as I really expected it to be, but wow did it give me some great laughs.

THE LESSONS LEARNED
I learned a lot this first year post-grad, from practical things (keep a screw driver in your car in case you break down) to the more trivial (mono can actually be caught like the flu) to career advice (one you’ve apologized for a misunderstanding there’s not much more you can do). Many of these stories have silver linings that I can see now, that I didn’t see at the time and even though the challenges were not the ones I expected one thing was certainly true: I was able to figure it out along the way. Let’s see what this next year brings…can’t go any lower, right?

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