Reflections from 1 year after college

3 lessons learned from real life

Posted by Leo Lu on July 8, 2017

It’s been almost a year since graduating from NYU and I’ve gone through many ups and downs in this unstructured world, one with no labels of freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior. I felt like a freshman at life, but just like I learned so much in the transition to a sophomore in high school and college, I’ve done the same this time as well. In this unstructured environment where there are no mandatory classes I have to somehow get good grades in, my path is completely up to me, and where better to chase my dream than in New York City!

One year ago, the environment seemed so new to me - no concentrated areas where you can consistently run into people you know like at the school library, meal plans, or assignments looming over your head. Besides the time spent at work, I had the rest of the time to myself and I’ve been adapting, forming systems on how to be most efficient. I’ve learned the importance of forming my own social circles, making the best use of my free time, and patience in long-term progress.

Non-proximity based relationships

After graduating, although I’ve lost touch with a bunch of my friends from college, I have made some from all different backgrounds primarily through following my interests. Instead of hanging out with the people I work with, where I find it hard to form a genuine connection with some, I’m able to honestly discuss thoughts with the people who think similarly to me, making proximity not the issue. It’s more about the quality of the friendship and not the quantity, so in that regard, distance or convenience does not matter much - many of my interactions with my friends are only once a month and it’s enough to keep it going because we are all busy doing our own thing. Meeting new friends through networking events, I’ve found several like-minded peole to bounce my ideas off and this is only the start to that, there are so many more people I am bound to encounter and of those there will be some I get along with very well.

With this comes the necessity to put effort into maintaining friendships and relationships. In New York City, everyone seems to be busy and I had to take the initiative to engage some of my contacts, given that they wouldn’t have known they were on my radar to talk to if I didn’t take the initial step to set something up. It’s important to keep people updated on what’s going on in order to keep them engaged and the dialogue alive. How awkward would it be to hear from someone you’ve only spoken to once after a year or two of no contact (which I tried to do, and will NOT do again). At this point, my circle extends beyond the people I know from work, college, and high school - New York City is full of communities within the overall community of the city, with so many niches to belong to and I am into the self-improvement groups. Furthermore, age is not an obstacle. When in college or high school, we are surrounded by those that are within our age range by a few years but after graduation, that becomes completely different. I’ve learned so much from people who are a few years older than me and I was able to start the conversation through my interest in learning about their work, what they are passionate about. It’s wonderful how naturally a connection forms between people with shared interests.

One way I maintain my connections is through a Google spreadsheet functioning as a CRM system with three tabs: people I'd like to talk to, people I'm close with, and people I've spoken with. In each tab, I keep the same headers - their name, role, contact info, category, and any comments. By establishing a somewhat consistent way of sorting through my contacts, I'm able to quickly pull up whoever comes to mind in the spreadsheet instead of digging through the recesses of my memory. Meeting people takes time but once you make that connection with someone, take hold of it and do not let them go!

Maximizing limited time

It’s also a bit unnerving to me how quickly time flies by while maintaining a full time job. Back in school, days felt their appropriate length to me but now weeks feel like days. There seem to only be two distinct types of days: weekdays and weekends. Because I have to get 7.5 hours of sleep, I only have around two to three hours of free time per day after factoring in time spent commuting to my job and working, eating, and exercising. To save time, I’ve come up with routines to save time on errands: on Sundays, I buy groceries from Trader Joe’s and on Monday night I cook between 4-6 meals at once. For my workout schedule, I currently do two days of weightlifting and two days of cardio, toning it down from the initial five days a week of exercising so I can have more energy to work on my own work, the most important time of the day. I have two to three hours per day to make progress and I try my best to do so, it’s like a second job. At this point I’ve even changed my weekends up to have a day of fun but also fitting in some times to create content, such as spending a Saturday afternoon writing this piece, learning web design in addition to reading books and speaking with people to learn.

Changing with time

Now is the time to get established and what better time to do it than now? I don’t want to come to a point where it’s too late to pursue what I truly want to because of external circumstances, where I am accountable not just for myself but for others as well. While time flies, the question I have to consider is if there is progress or not, which often proves difficult to gauge. In general, I’ve only been able to deduce latent advancement over a period of time. During the winter months, I formed the foundation of my writing by spilling my heart out in pieces that are yet to be published, not worrying about perfection but just to get the work done. In early spring and all the way until now, I’ve built a simple website from scratch and later completely redesigned it with javascript to learn web design, and the next step for all of this is to get my content out to everyone. Besides working on these independent projects, I’ve also been expanding my network and maintaining my social skills by going to one event per week, be it a networking event, educational seminar, or social outing. And I don’t view this as work.

If I were to ever to conduct detailed analysis on my daily log I'm sure I could recongize patters and pinpoint specific inflection points. Time passes by too quickly and in an effort to remember more about my days, I keep logs every month to track my sleep quality, work activity, afternoon napping/meditation, exercise, work done on myself, and any comments. As I enter the information in at the end of the day, these actions replay in my mind, providing a reminder for what happened. They also give room for creativity when I do my actual writing reflection for the day - instead of regurgitating what I did during the day, I focus on associating the day with a theme or topic to then write about.

When people ask me if I’d rather be back in school, I respond with a definite yes. However, I can’t go back, and so the answer is only hypothetical. It took me a very long time to pick my path and commit to it, and while I still haven’t found my ultimate calling, I am confident that I am getting closer to it day by day, taking solace in embracing this freedom. Not something you can do in school if you want to graduate on time and not drop out.