Back-to-School FOMO: 4 Ways to Make a Real World Life that Rivals Your College Days

Caroline Beaton

When I graduated college, I was ready to leave. When all my younger classmates returned the following fall, I was ready to go back.

The life carrying on without me was unmissable: photos flooded my Facebook and Instagram; event notifications invited me to imagine how much better my life would be if I were still in school. Sure, I was excited for my future, but I would have happily done senior year all over again.

I didn’t miss the parties; I missed my purpose as a student. I missed going to class every day knowing why: I loved my creative writing major, my professors and the constant opportunities to expand my mind with other smart, curious people.

For me, college was a modern day meditation on a mountaintop. My studies were, by nature of an insular liberal arts environment, removed from the issues themselves. Graduating was a volcanic eruption that forced me down to the grim, frustrating realities of the city and the working class.

But in my three years post college, I’ve come to prefer the real world—if for no other reason, because it’s real. I’ve also learned how to integrate what I loved about college into my career. This article serves to help you do the same.

Below are four ways to get the best of both worlds:

1. Choose your place.

College has an obvious objective: get good grades so you succeed at life. Graduating obscures such explicit goals. What’s success? What will get me there? Why do this over that? How? We used to have our lives outlined with literal syllabi; now, we’re the sole agents of our decisions. Everything we do has stakes, and only hindsight has answers.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything you “should” be doing. Pick one place to start. I recommend finding fulfilling work first and foremost. So do researchers, noting that the wrong job fit can set recent grads back for years following their first year in the workforce.

Would you attend a college without first touring the school, reading what people said online or checking out the professors? Of course not. Yet many college grads leap into employment with little knowledge of their employers. In consequence, one study estimated that 50-80% of new graduates leave their first job within three years due to poor career planning.

kununu exists to change that. The world’s original workplace insights platform, kununu sheds light on company culture, workplace benefits, perks and more through employer reviews. Job seekers can use reviews to find companies they’re compatible with. Ask yourself if you want to be a part of the experience they are sharing – after all, would you have applied to your alma matter if you couldn’t imagine yourself there? Or if the current students appeared miserable? Your job is no different, so do the research and find your fit.

2. Find your professional squad.

When we first enter the workforce, many of us feel unprepared and alone. Our tendency is to huddle together with recent grads and, essentially, recreate college at bars. But this method merely prolongs our adulting anxiety. Excused by others doing the same thing, we ignore critical questions about our life’s direction and purpose.

Or some of us hole up. We join the ranks of the average American who has the TV on for six hours a day. We use technology to avoid things that feel threatening—which is, for many in transition, everything. But this, too, exacerbates our state: In one study, participants felt more depressed and anxious after watching just two hours of TV.

Instead, surround yourself with people who want to move past college and grow. Join professional associations, mastermind groups, online communities, clubs or various other networks that hold you accountable for your personal and professional goals.

3. Design your environment.

In college, I loved how I could design my own schedule and work at coffee shops whenever I wanted. So, in the last three years, I’ve created a career where I can work anytime and anywhere.

What did you love about college? If you enjoyed stopping in on events and lectures, you can still do that! Check out offerings from local universities or educational non-profits. If you loved coming home to people and chatting about your day, get roommates. If you benefited from one-on-one mentorship, seek that out in a manager, coworker or virtual friend.

List what you want your average day to look like. Circle the “must haves”. Then target this lifestyle in your life and work choices. This practice doesn’t make you entitled. It makes you a person who knows and seeks what s/he wants, which is appealing to employers, partners, friends and, well, the entire world.

Crafting your life won’t just save you time and maximize your impact; it will empower and energize you. Research shows, for instance, that elderly people given more autonomy in nursing homes—whether it’s the design of their room, where, what or when they eat, or access to technology—are more satisfied, more social and more healthy.

4. And, don’t forget to have fun.

Our generation needs many things in the workplace: flexibility, training, feedback. But, more than anything else, we need opportunity for exploration. Research shows that, for both adults and children, exploration is the foundation of learning, accomplishment and fulfillment.

In college, it was easy to investigate our interests. The real world, by contrast, sometimes seems too serious for adventure. We have to deal with debt, insurance, cell phone plans, rent, impressing employers, and finding ways to impact the world without sacrificing our desired lifestyle. Sometimes it feels like there’s no time for fun.

In fact, there are small ways to incorporate joy and exploration into every day. When I graduated college, I moved to Canada and became a receptionist. My job bored me, but on the weekends my boyfriend and I adventured around British Columbia. Our dedication to getting outside lit up an otherwise tough period.

There’s a difference between being childish and child-like, says Elizabeth Gilbert. The latter means curiosity, open-mindedness and egoless-ness. Laugh at random irony or innocent idiocy; play with your coworkers; throw dinner parties; do something creative every day.

Back-to-school FOMO is understandable, but it’s also unnecessary. Recreate the best of your college conditions, and you won’t miss out on any anything.

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Caroline Beaton (@cs_beaton) is kununu’s millennial career expert. She’s an award-winning writer and entrepreneur who helps ambitious millennials change their habits and behaviors to lead more fulfilling lives. Her writing has been has been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today, Business Insider and many others.