For me and many of my friends, the hardest adjustment to post-college life wasn’t working — it was figuring out how to make our time outside of work as satisfying as it had been in college.
When I graduated Cornell in ’07 I found a job through on-campus recruiting and moved to D.C. I packed everything into my ’94 Honda Accord and moved into my apartment in Woodley Park with my Craigslist roommates. Three days later I started work, and at 5:30 p.m. I took the red line home and slipped off my dress shoes. I think I made dinner and watched some TV. I felt like I should have had something to do, something to study for, something to prepare for. But now that I had a job, all that “work” I had in college was done during working hours.
Once college was over I had the one thing I always lacked in school — time. Free time was abundant, luxurious. But it quickly became unsettling. I wished I had no homework and no obligations when I was in Uris writing a paper at 1 a.m., but the reality of coming home from a 9-to-5 and having nothing to do felt empty.
In college, when I wasn’t studying I was with friends or pursuing various extracurricular activities. Senior year I lived in a 10-bedroom apartment on Buffalo St., and 90 percent of people I knew lived within a 10 minute walk. My social life came together fairly spontaneously, and “making plans” was never really a requirement to ensure a fun Saturday night. I could go to the bars with one of my roommates and end up sharing a pitcher with six other people by the end of the night.
When I moved to D.C., though, the phrase “I’ll be there soon, I’m leaving my place right now” didn’t mean the same thing. I had some great friends in Washington, but the spontaneity that I counted on in college went away because we were spread out across the city. It was no longer the norm for me to run into people that I knew out at a bar.
The second way I filled my time in college was through extracurricular pursuits — the bhangra team, a fraternity, being a tour guide and a couple other things over the years. Looking back on my time in D.C., I only started to hit my stride a year into it, when I joined a few groups and made some commitments in my schedule. I found a bhangra team to dance with. In the spring and the fall I played kickball on Thursdays. On Wednesday nights I was a volunteer mentor for young adults. It was fulfilling, and after volunteering all the mentors would go out and grab a drink together.
Joining these groups meant that sometimes I had to leave work on the early side or wake up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. But it also gave me a reason to do those things, a reason to put as much thought and effort into my life as I devoted to my career. That’s when I realized that leading a fulfilling life requires much more planning, effort and creativity after you graduate than it does in college. You need to work at it, it won’t just create itself.
That’s something I wasn’t prepared for at all when I got my diploma. Seniors: As you devote time and effort toward finding a job, I suggest you put some thought into the other aspects of your life as well.
Think about where you’ll live: How will a 45 minute commute make you feel each day? Can you afford the lifestyle you want in the city that a potential job is in?
Think about how you’ll fill your free time: While at Cornell, is there some activity — Thai boxing, golf — that you can start and continue with after you graduate? Is there a cause that you’ve always wanted to volunteer for but never had the time? Were you a musician in high school who hasn’t picked up the trumpet in years?
Think about with whom you’ll spend time: Would it be nice to drop by your parents’ house for dinner once every couple of weeks? Do you want to fly cross-country for Thanksgiving? Do you have a few friends who are all thinking of moving to the same city?
A few years ago I read a book that stuck with me: Deep Economy, by Bill McKibben. McKibben, an author and professor at Middlebury College, contends that humans are happiest when they live in close communities. College, he writes, is the last time that many of us will share the same space with so many people who all contribute to and benefit from this close community. That idea resonated with me. It helps to explain why alumni always look back on their college years as some of their most enjoyable ones.
So savor that sense of community while it lasts. And when it’s over, do your best to build those ties somewhere new.
Ben Koffel is a grad student in the College of Architecture, Art & Planning. He may be contacted at email@example.com. Come Again? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.