You Graduated. Now What the F&#k Should You Do?

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I am a photographer passionate about the outdoors, meaningful travel, creativity and intention in all things. I hope to use my platform online to show the beauty and complexity of the world we live in, and to encourage genuine connection to the world and all the magic within it.

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Four years ago this week, I graduated from college and had no idea what I wanted to do next. This post is for anyone who is graduating this spring and has no clue what to do with their life. First of all, congratulations on graduating! Now let’s get down to it. Warning: profanity.

Nobody is luckier than you are right now.

Yes, maybe you have student loans. Maybe you feel pressure from your parents. But if you are 22 years old with no idea what direction you want to go in, you are in an incredibly awesome situation. Here’s why.

School– your life to date so far– is bullshit compared to the “real world.” There are no scheduled exams here, nothing to memorize, shit out and forget 5 minutes later. That’s not how it works. There aren’t reading assignments and there aren’t grades. You have to validate yourself. And if you screw it up, you’re going to know it. It’s not just a letter on your report card.

In the “real world”– and I hate this term, but there is truth in it– there are no rules. You make the rules. As convincing as some people seem to be, at some point, even the most successful and inspiring people have no real clue what they are doing. They just do their best– they take their best guess and they move forward without apology.

I completely empathize if you feel overwhelmed. I did. But now is the time to be accountable.

Now is the time to be ridiculous. Now is the time to risk. I guarantee the list of things holding you back at 22 is way, way smaller than it will be at 42. Most of you aren’t married. Most of you don’t have kids.

Now is the time to learn about money and be purposeful with it. Travel, but when you do, travel with a purpose. Be smart– do not waste your money or your time (because your time is money, even if you don’t realize this yet).

If you don’t want to get a 9-5 office job, now is the time to find out how to make life work for you in a different way. And you have to hustle. I don’t want you to run in a hamster wheel– I want you to hustle as gracefully as possible. But respect that you might spend a lot of time face down in the arena. That is to say: you will fail, and you will learn. This is part of it– maybe even most of it.

Now is the time to get really fucking curious. Get curious about people you look up to and learn as much as you can from them. Find mentors. Get curious about the world because it is changing all the time, with or without you. If you want to be well informed and make your life matter, it is important to understand the planet you live on and the people you live on it with.

Ask questions. Try things. Take risks. Say yes. Do not make procrastinating an option.

Yes it’s overwhelming, yes it’s scary as hell and yes you’re going to be okay, I promise. Now is the time to jump head first into the deep end and learn to swim. Now is the time to jump off the cliff and build the plane on the way down. This is the time you can get away with living a lifestyle that is mostly about you– today your life is probably the most uncomplicated it will ever be.

These are strong words because they are meant to be. It doesn’t matter what excuse you feel like you need to tell me about right now– if you were inclined to read this article, some of it applies to you. I’m not going to sugar coat things and pat you on the back. I’m going to tell you to go get after it.

Four years ago, I walked across the stage at SUNY Purchase with zero idea where the next year would take me and barely any clue where the next month would take me. Four years later, I’m amazed at the roller coaster of my life. I’m humbled by all the times I have fallen and all of the lessons I’ve learned. And I will never stop.

This is your life. You get to do it one time. You are young. Get hungry and do it big.


Photos by Ali V. | @alisonvagnini


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  1. I saw this on your snap story this morning and knew I immediately had to read it. I’ve just graduated with my masters, so I’m a smidge older than 22 but the feelings are still the same. I have NO idea what I’m doing and part of me just wants to nap all day. But thank you for the message. I plan to embrace it and kick ass. 🙂

    • YES to kicking ass! Just read your latest post as well, and the deep breath thing is crucial. I feel you about the napping. I have been there! So often, I write posts for myself, at least in part. And I can remember needing a pep talk on this subject not too long ago! Just by being aware of how you are feeling, you’ve already taken the first step. xo

  2. Eugene says:

    Yes!! 20’s are the prime time to make mistakes and not pay big for it so might as well go all out!

    This video by best selling author Gary Vaynerchuk sums it up perfectly for anyone in their 20’s! Gives me goosebumps watching it and reinforces my belief that I shouldn’t go with what society tells me to.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Even though I also graduated a few years ago, I feel like this totally applies to me because I feel a big transition needing to happen. I’m excited that I’m still free from most responsibilities in my life. I loved your Brene Brown reference about the arena and I totally know the feeling of being there, and feeling like you can’t get up. What do you do when you feel like you’re face down in the arena?

    • Heck yeah! This can totally apply to anybody– I’m happy to hear that you are able to make big changes relatively freely! LOVE Brene Brown, especially everything about Act 2… being in it and not knowing how long it will last or what the outcome will be. Often Act 2 is the hardest part of the story. When I am face down in the arena (relatively often), I try to look around, take what I can learn from it, and survey my options. Always messy, usually worthwhile. xo

  4. Diana Maria says:

    Yes to all of this!! I completely agree with everything you’ve said. I graduated last year, and tried to conform to what my parents wanted for me- an office job, more school, all of that jazz. I just couldn’t do it. I knew it wasn’t for me, at least not now, so I’m moving out west to the mountains in a week, which has been my dream for years! It is hard to go against societal expectations and what those who love you wish for you, but I genuinely think following your heart will lead you to where you belong. It might be scary but I think it’s so worth it! Thank you for this awesome post!

  5. Hilary says:

    Hey Erin! I graduated a couple years ago, and I felt that way then. I thought I had it all together, but I’m realizing that the path that I thought was right… isn’t. So now I’m back to square 1 to figure out something that works for me and fits me better than the corporate 9-5 lifestyle.

  6. Kristin says:

    This is a really inspiring post, Erin! In a light-a-fire-under-my-ass kind of way. I’m curious, what did you get your degree in? And do you feel like it was worth it to spend all that time in school? I’m in a position where going back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree is as convenient as it probably ever will be… but I’m struggling to decide if I think it’s actually worth the time and money and effort, or if it would be better to just keep exploring and trying new things to get a better sense of what my passions truly are.
    You’re such a great inspiration and I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    • Hi Kristin, thanks for the kind words! My degree is a double major in Visual Arts and Environmental Studies. For me personally, it was the right decision to get a degree, though I really questioned it at the time. There are jobs I have had that I would not have been considered for without it, specifically anything related to academia, journalism, or education. I do have successful friends who do not have a college degree, and I don’t think it’s necessary for every person, especially if getting one would put you into serious debt. There are pros and cons to each option. If I were you, I would make a list of the things I love to do and ideas I have for my future career. I’d also ask myself what I would want out of a college experience/degree, getting as specific as possible. See if anything comes up that gets you closer to your decision.

      My take is that there are plenty of incredible, intelligent, creative, inspiring people without degrees. Is a degree necessary? Nope. Does it help? At least part of the time… yes.

      • Kristin says:

        Thanks for your response, Erin. That was really helpful and I’m grateful to you for taking the time to pass along some suggestions for me. I hope to see great things come your way for all the passion and hard work you put into your dreams <3

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