A look at the challenge of transitioning from college to the next phase and what some schools are doing to help. Read more here in Christianity Today.
I got a text message today from a former student who was wondering how long it will take for her stop missing the community and friends she found in college. She likes her new community, but it’s not the same as undergrad. In some ways, she’s asking, “Will I always feel the void that leaving college left in my life? Will I ever love my life as much as I did during college?” I sent her this short article on 13 Ways Your Life Will Change After College. Because yes, life changes after college, but those feeling of missing undergrad don’t last forever. At first, it’s hard, awkward and weird, but then…we find a new normal. If you’re feeling lost, friendless and alone, hang in there. This too shall pass.
If you won the lottery tomorrow, would you finish your college degree?
If you had enough money that we didn’t have to work, would you? A recent Atlantic Magazine article entitled “Secret Fears of the Super-Rich” highlights an in-depth research study conducted by Boston College that explores the question, “Does great wealth bring fulfillment?” Looking at the lives of multi-millionaires ($25 million or more), the findings reveal what may or may not come as a surprise—deep insecurities, anxieties, loneliness, and fear fill the lives of the very wealthy. Money has not bought fulfillment. And, a life of worklessness may not be all it’s cracked up to be.
One of the most striking sections of the article showcases the painful reaction of millionaires’ heirs when they are told they will not have to work a day in their lives. Here’s what Kenny, counselor of some of these trust-fund children, says,
“One of the saddest phrases I’ve heard,” Kenny says of his time counseling the wealthy, “is when the heir to a fortune is told, ‘Honey, you’re never going to have to work.’” The announcement is often made, Kenny explains, by a rich grandparent to a grandchild—and it rarely sounds as good to the recipient as to the one delivering it.
Not having to work a day in your life! To many of us, this sounds like a dream come true. Or is it? The article goes on to say,
Work is what fills most people’s days, and it provides the context in which they interact with others. A life of worklessness, however financially comfortable, can easily become one of aimlessness, of estrangement from the world. The fact that most people imagine it would be paradise to never have to work does not make the experience any more pleasant in practice.
Is work a blessing or curse? A necessary evil or a good gift? This article—as well as our educational pursuits and career path—should make us question our perception of work. As we polish our resumes and compete for employment offers, we should ask, “why do we work?” Why (deep down) do we want that internship or job? Is work just something that pays the bills so we can do what we really want to do in life … or is there something more? Maybe we have a bigger and more hopeful view of work right now, but what happens if we don’t like our first job out of college? We need to be mindful of our own perceptions of work as well as the message we get from our culture.
When it comes to work, our culture tends to either demonize it (work is a necessary evil) or idolize it (work is where our worth comes from). As always, the Bible offers a third way where work is redeemed. Here are some important biblical principles when it comes to work:
- Work—in and of itself—is inherently good. Work exists pre-fall. Adam was called to tend the garden before he and Eve sinned. It’s one of the first commands of the Bible. And, when God creates Adam and Eve in His image, the only thing we know about God up until that point is that He worked, creating the universe! It is a gift to rise and go to work. When we use our talents to make a difference, we image God (and Christ) as we create, design, invent, help, serve, and cultivate.
- Work is fallen. We know from Genesis 3 that work becomes toil. Like everything else in the good creation, work too is subject to the curse. We know this is true when our employer treats us poorly, when we strive for approval in our jobs, and when we experience frustration in our work. In a fallen world, we will be tempted to reduce our work to what we can gain from it rather that what we can offer to other through it.
- Work is being redeemed. Through Christ, all things are being made right, including our work. When we work, we love God and love others. All of us are gifted and employed in different fields. Our work reminds us of this beautifully interdependent web. Redeemed work becomes creative service unto others.
When we work, we live into the reality that God designed us for. So, let’s stop idolizing work (drawing strength and identity from it) or demonizing it (seeing it as a necessary evil or a means to and end) but rather enter a third way—where work is worship: an opportunity to love God and love others.
Here are some questions to consider:
- From your perspective, why work? What are your perceptions of work?
- How do your perceptions align with a Biblical perspective?
- Work is created good, work is fallen, and work is being redeemed. In what ways do you see this pattern in your field of study/line of work?
- What temptations do you need to resist (money, power, approval, security, etc.)?
- How will you dedicate yourself to being a part of redeeming your field/work?
When life’s demands pile up, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, stuck, or lose our focus. During a recent stressful stretch, I recall a specific afternoon when I just couldn’t get out of my head. I kept replaying a conversation and situation that didn’t go well. This reel sent me thinking about all the things I should have done or said differently. As I replayed the past, I also stressed about the future. Like a hamster on wheel, I kept going around and around in my head, feeling like there was no way out, until…
…I walked downstairs, and the first thing I noticed was this car ad on the counter:
The ad was encouraging me to buy a Ford car, but I took it as a message from the Lord saying, “Get off the hamster wheel, and focus on me.” I laughed out loud at my “insanity” and God’s graciousness to use a car ad to speak truth. When we’re stressed (and sleep-deprived), it can be so easy to get stuck inside our own little messy heads and lives. We can take a “small” situation and magnify it in our minds. I—in no way—want to minimize the difficulties we face (or make light of mental health issues), but I want to encourage us to put even our most-stressful situations into a bigger perspective. Here are few ways we can “stop the insanity and get a new focus”:
Fix your eyes on Jesus. Who or what has your attention? To whom or what do you direct your affection? Too often we give our thoughts, lives, and loyalty to undeserving situations and people instead of focusing on Christ first and foremost. We’re preoccupied with what we cannot control and change rather than fixed on the One who can transform any situation. If we’re obsessed with or drawing our strength from anything that’s not Christ (good grades/our work, a job offer, a relationship, people pleasing, etc.), we have idols we need to deal with. We need to take them down and replace them with a new focus. How do we fix our eyes on Jesus? My college roommate used to talk about it as a process of “re-wallpapering the walls of our mind.” We “take down” the beliefs that do not align with Jesus (lies and “head-trash”), and we re-wallpaper our minds with gospel truth (right thinking about who Jesus is and who we are in Him). Then, we aim to align our new beliefs with new behavior, acting in a way that shows our eyes are focused on Jesus and his truth, not our former lies and idols.
Share your burdens. We are not meant to do this alone. We need others and others need us. When we’re stressed or going through a difficult time, we may be tempted to withdraw, but this is when we need others most. Author Ann Lamott talks about a friend who says something like, “my mind is like a bad neighborhood I try to never walk down alone.” This friend’s remedy for not getting stuck inside his head is to invite others in. We can easily become confused, stuck, and overwhelmed when we try to “go it alone.” We should share our burdens and invite people in—even to some of the dark and ugly parts. We find help and healing in the company of others.
Get some sleep. One of the best ways to manage stress and stay focused is to get some sleep. We can better love God and others (including ourselves!) when we get a good night’s rest. We are blessed to be a blessing to others, but sometimes we fail to prepare to be a blessing. When we’re sleep deprived, we can become short, irritable, and irrational. Limiting caffeine intake, reducing screen time before bed, and going to sleep at a reasonable hour can do wonders for our spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being.
While we may not be able to change our circumstances, we can choose how we will undergo them. Instead of getting stuck in patterns of negative thought and behavior, we can decide to focus our attention and affections on Jesus. We can opt to get physical rest as we fully and completely rest in Him. So, let’s stop the insanity and get a new focus: Jesus!
If you’re in the midst of major life change or choice, you may be asking, “How do I figure out what’s next?” Here are some thoughts about “place” that may help with your discernment.
Author, Meg Jay says, “adult life is built…out of person, place, and thing: who we are with, where we live, and what we do for a living.” She encourages us to “start with whichever of these we know something about,” but sometimes when we’re discerning, it can feel like there aren’t any “knowns.”
So, where do we start? In our search to figure it out, we can easily allow the “what” – the job – to drive us rather than the “who” and “where.” By default, we apply for jobs, accept offers, and move—sometimes without any consideration of what life will be like in that place for a recent graduate looking for meaningful community. What if we made our search first about people and location rather than occupation? What if we moved for a community, church or church plant rather than a job?!
When a Penn State senior, Justin, found out about a group of graduating peers and young pastors who were planting a church in Philadelphia, he thought, “What if I moved for the church and narrowed my job search?” Instead of making his process about what he would do for a living, Justin decided to take a risk. With that came an incredible opportunity: rather than striking out on his own into the unknown, Justin went to a place where he knew God was at work to join a community where he could be “iron sharpen[ing] iron” with other believers from his undergraduate experience (Proverbs 27:17). He chose place first.
In the book of Acts, we learn that God appoints and determines the places we live. He locates us with his purposes in mind. Wherever we go, there will be people groping for Him, and we can participate in their process of finding Him (Acts 17:26-27). Or, we may be the ones seeking and searching for a time, and God will put others in our lives to guide us back to him. The place where we live determines the people and community we “do life” with. Though it may seem obvious that our location makes a significant difference in the life we live, too often place becomes an afterthought.
In retrospect, Justin is so grateful that he allowed the “where” of his next step to be at the forefront of his decision-making. It’s not that he didn’t have any challenges his first year out, but he was able to commit to a place and a group of people that mattered. God provided not only a job in his field but a community in which he could flourish!
Though it may seem challenging to consider a theology of place on top of everything else you have going on, I encourage you to consider the who and where of your next step as much – if not more so – than the what. As you’re contemplating a move to a new location or deciding to accept a job offer, I urge you to press pause and picture yourself there.
- What is the place like?
- Are there healthy churches that you can join?
- Are there opportunities to find and build community?
- Where is God at work in that city/town? How can you join him?
All of these questions are crucial to considering place. How would it change things if we moved for a church community instead of a job? Chose a neighborhood based on opportunities to serve and learn, rather than convenience and familiarity? This may not be possible, but if you’re not sure where you’re headed or if you have a few options on the table, make sure you pray about place!
Habits transform our lives. Borrowing from the concepts in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, financial planner, Dave Seibel, recently challenged a group of seniors that the transition out of college is the ideal time to start a new habit. When we are out of our normal rhythm (or ruts), we can more easily adopt a new practice. It’s why people who want to quit smoking are encouraged to start the new habit while they’re on vacation, or why marketing geniuses send coupons to new parents as they’re entering the major transition of parenthood (if we start buying diapers at Target, we’re likely to keep buying there). We are more inclined to succeed and stick to a habit if we started it during a transitional time. What better time than right after college – when things are far from “normal” – to start the habits that will lead to a healthy “new normal.”
This short article on How to Adapt to Life After College talks about the importance of changing habits right after college, with suggestions like getting to bed earlier and eating lunch at the same time each day to regulate your metabolism. It also hits on two other key habits: setting goals and living on a budget.
What habits do you need to start, stop or continue doing to thrive after college?
When I was in my mid-twenties, my friend Kimi and I entered an essay contest for twentysomething writers that invited us to explore a question that was keeping us up a night. Kimi wrote a thoughtful piece about race issues and ethnic identity. I too had deep questions related to politics, justice, and so on, but when it came down to it, my real burning question was about boyfriends. Or the lack thereof. I titled my piece “Twentysomething and Single” and wrote about a question I was asked almost weekly at the time by anyone from family members to close friends to perfect strangers: “So, are you in a relationship?” READ MORE…
This article first appeared on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Blog, August 4, 2016 as part of the “Just Tell Me What I Need to Know” blog series.
There are so many different aspects to the transition, it would be nice if someone would just tell us what
we need to know. Well, there’ help with exactly that! Check out the ongoing "Just Tell Me What
I Need to Know blog series for recent graduates (on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Blog).