For guys like me, you haven’t officially entered the real world until you attempt to cook all by yourself. Those last three words change everything. 

In my specific case, “real life” began the second the fire alarm went off in my apartment. I was cooking chicken one night in a beautiful and heavy cast-iron skillet I received as a Christmas gift (also a good sign you’ve officially entered the real world—cooking presents!!). I’d like to think I gave it my best shot, but sometimes cast-iron skillets have a mind of their own. 

As soon as the alarm sounded, it was game over. #adulting had officially begun. Momma we made it!!

Just a few weeks before, I was standing in front of 10,000 people, pouring my heart out about how much I loved the university I was leaving. Skip ahead three weeks and nothing is the same. It’s me and a friend in a brand-new city, working brand new jobs, knowing very few people, and knowing even less about how to cook chicken. (That’s what you get when you’re a 4.5 year meal plan survivor. Thankfully nothing actually caught fire. Just lots of smoke.)  

I would be lying if I said I didn’t see it coming. LOL… please!  I saw it coming from a mile away. Not the fire alarm part, the real world/#adulting/paying-bills-is-overrated part.

I had read all the blog posts about the loneliness that many post-grads deal with when they first leave college. I knew that would soon be me. And if I’m being honest with myself, it was one of the reasons I decided to tack on an extra semester after my senior year. College was awesome, and I didn’t want it to end.

Standing in the middle of my smoke-filled kitchen that night, it was finally sinking in:

All those bloggers were right. This post grad life is kinda lonely. (A few weeks later, a 7th grader called me “sir” which obviously made me feel 100x better.)

Fast forward 8 months, and here I am. What’s happened since then?  I try not to write blogs just so you’ll feel sorry for me and send me cookbooks. I try to write about things I’m learning that others might benefit from.  

So… here’s 5 thoughts on what I’ve learned so far about life in the real world.

1. It’s OK to miss college.

Recent grads get that question all the time: Do you miss college?  Hmm… let me think.

I miss the atmosphere — showing up to campus each day and running into all of my friends. I’d love to know how many times I hi-fived a friend as we passed each other en route to our classes. It’s such a communal experience.  Everyone’s right here, right now. Here together, pursuing all sorts of dreams.

I miss the rhythm — never being in one place for long. Constantly on the go. Moving between classes. Seeing friends. Headed to a meeting. Going to workout. When you find a rhythm that works for you, it’s like magic. You feel like a super car firing on all cylinders. 

I miss the sandbox — the wide variety of things to do and explore. The reality is that, in college, a normal day is not a normal day. College is a crazy cool sandbox to play in and try new things.

College is awesome in so many ways. (Heck, I just finished writing a book about it!) It’s OK to miss it sometimes. 

2. Embrace the responsibility. 

In college, I typically asked myself questions like, “When’s my next test?”  These days, it’s more like, “How much does a leaf-blower cost?” 

Even if you paid your entire way through college, I bet that’s a new one for you. Sure you may have some college debt on your hands, but hey, at least you don’t have back pains from wearing what looks more like a jetpack and less like a leaf-blower.

For real though, no matter how much responsibility you had in college, the real world still carries more. From house maintenance to cooking to insurance to jury duty to time management to leaf-blowers, you have more of a life to manage in the real world. It’s challenging, but it’s also a valuable learning opportunity. 

The old saying, “A budget is about telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went” really is true. Don’t run from it, embrace it! 

3. The vagueness of your 20s can be a good thing.

I don’t know about you, but I thrive on clarity. When I can see 2 or 3 years up ahead, I feel like an airplane with a clear runway — I feel like I can hit the gas and go full speed. 

When I don’t have clarity, I get frustrated and often feel stalled.

But here’s the thing: Sometimes not having clarity is the very thing you need to gain clarity on what matters the most.   

What am I living for? Where am I finding my identity?  In the gospel?  Or my own false sense of security and “clarity?” 

Sometimes it takes losing your sense of control to realize that you never had it to begin with.

Don’t mishear me, clarity is a good thing.  Get it if you can. But don’t let it become the ultimate source of your security. My mentor, Justin Clement, often says, “Every moment is an opportunity to either trust God or trust yourself.”

4. Community is where it’s at (and where it will always be).

In college, you probably made lots of friends simply by showing up to stuff, because there were people everywhere you went. In the real world, the only friends you have are the ones you make time for.

To add to that, building community in a new city isn’t always easy. It’s takes courage and awkwardness. Time and patience. Letting go and looking ahead. 

I wish I had some sort of fast track, a button that could launch me two years into the process. A time-machine that could plop me right into my mid-20s, surrounded by an awesome community of like-minded people.  

But community and friendships don’t work that way. It’s an organic process, running counter to our  instantaneous “microwave” culture.

And yet it’s overwhelmingly worth it. We were made for community.

I read an article just the other day about an epidemic men are facing: A lack of friends. More than any other health issue, the article states, a lack of friends is wrecking havoc on our wellbeing. 8 year olds and 88 year olds alike cannot survive in isolation. 

For me, this is particularly encouraging when thinking about my married buddies. If you’re anything like me, it feels awkward to ask them to hang out, as if I’m trespassing on some sort of property that doesn’t belong to me.  Feeling as if, because they are married, they have no time left for casual friendships. But in reality, married men are in need of bros the most.

No matter who you are, you’ll never outgrow your need for community.

5. You’re allowed to pivot. 

My friend and roommate, Sam, said the other day, “Sometimes, you don’t really know until you go do it.”  Granted, he was talking about our first experience in the Atlanta apartment world and the crazy high rent we got roped into paying, but the same is true in life. 

You don’t know what your first job will be like until you start working.

You don’t know who your new friends will be until you start meeting new people.

You don’t know if he or she is “the one” (whatever that means) until you start going on dates.

And it doesn’t have to perfect the very first time. You’re allowed to change gears, to pivot.

Sam thought he was going to be placed in Chicago for his job. He got put in Atlanta. Another friend of mine spent a year working in Minnesota before coming down south.  Another friend’s entire department was laid off 6 months into his first job, and he had to relocate. One buddy moved to Nashville, decided it wasn’t for him, and is now going to grad school in Savannah. Another is spending some time in Raleigh before getting transferred to Indianapolis.

I could go on and on. Suffice it to say this: You don’t have to get it perfect right away. Your career (and life) is a marathon, not a sprint. 

That, I think, is perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned of them all: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

So don’t freak out too hard. It’s ok to miss college some, but don’t run from the added responsibility — embrace it! Your 20s might be full of ambiguity, but always pursue authentic community — you need it!  And you’re probably gonna have some pivots along the way — the first job you take or city you move to doesn’t have to be perfect. Chill out bro!

And if you ever decide to step out in valiant faith and cook chicken in a cast iron skillet… well… I can’t help you with that one. 

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