Letter to a College Graduate (5 thoughts for anyone trying to figure out life)


I recently had a conversation with a young friend at a party. Sitting at a table outside, sharing a tray of veggies and dip, I asked her about her plans after graduation. She told me that she wasn’t sure – she was looking at options, didn’t know if she could find a job she’d like, one that would be ‘right’ for her. As the sun set, several of us shared ideas and advice: resume writing pointers, interview tips, contacts for job recruiters, job-search websites, etc….  Finally, at one point she looked down at her hands folded in her lap and said in shocking sincerity, “Well, I think it really just comes down to the fact that I’m just afraid to be a grown-up. I’m just not sure I can do it.”

Ah, yes. “Afraid to be a grown-up.” At least she’s honest, right?

Some of us more seasoned folk might have words of advice for this young lady. “Well, buck up lassie, that’s what life is about!” Or, “Oh hun, you’ll be juuuuust fine. Just be sure you’re making a competitive salary, with a solid career track and great benefits. You know, my friend Sally’s daughter got a job in Houston and bought her own condo right after graduation.…” Or, “Eh, it doesn’t matter. Just go find something that pays the bills and get yourself through the day. Everyone hates work.”


Well, my dear. Here’s what I have to say to you, but I’m not sure it will help much:

I’m pretty much afraid of being a grown-up, too. And I’m 37.

I remember a moment in time, back when my oldest were very small – 2 years and 6 months or so. I was standing in my kitchen, staring at a pile of bills. My clothes disheveled, my children pleading for some lunch, and I thought, “What in the world does God think He’s DOING?! Why does he think I can handle all this? Because I can’t. I feel like I’m 17!”

All of us have a little wonderment in the back of our minds and hearts, sometimes a whisper, sometimes a scream: “I wonder if I had done this instead of that. I wonder if I had taken that job, moved to that town, married that guy, made that choice… What would have happened THEN, God?!

So, the real questions are these: How do we know if we’re doing the RIGHT thing? How do we know if our work is what God wants us to do with our lives?

When it comes to the bright future of any young person, all I can say is:

1. Try to find something you love to do. Always do your very best work. Don’t just go after the job position that pays the most, offers the best benefits or nicest year-end bonus. Find a balance between the practical need to work and your personal need for happiness. You have responsibilities to take care of – loans, payments, rent. So you might have to take a job that is not your ideal position at first, but that’s okay! There is still time, keep dreaming and planning but be thankful for what you have today. It is a privilege to work and contribute to society, to finally be doing something on your own and take care of yourself.  Start at the very beginning, striving for excellence in all you do.  You may never know how your hard work and contentiousness will benefit those you are with.

There is always nobility is a job well-done. Even if no one notices.

“Dear young people, do not bury your talents, the gifts that God has given you! Do not be afraid to dream of great things!” Pope Francis @pontifex

2. Always be prepared to learn. Have an open mind, and be willing to learn something new, even if your job is just a “holding pattern” till you land your dream gig. My husband worked for a printing company in Amarillo as a high school and college student. He was shy and lanky and scared to death. His boss, a friend of his father’s, was easily displeased. Among other things, he had to coordinate printing runs for Amarillo Junior League ladies with VERY high standards. But, he stuck it out, has many hilarious stories and eventually learned how to communicate and work with people he never thought could. Skills he still uses today. When he left for college, the boss gave him a cutting edge phone with a BUILT-IN dual cassette-tape message recorder (yes, that’s how old we are) so that they could be sure to reach him anytime, day or night. They weren’t sure how they could go on without him….

“If it’s flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s, be the best hamburger flipper in the world. Whatever it is you do you have to master your craft.”  Snoop Dogg

3. Be a good person.  You probably can’t fathom the thought now, but someday you may find it hard to just be yourself out there in the world.

Don’t forget to be kind. Be helpful beyond expectation. Do things without desiring anything in return. Welcome newcomers, stifle gossip, be quick to praise. Smile. Remember that you are not your job.

Some with bitter hearts might say, “Well the only way to get anywhere in this world is to just look out for #1, no matter what!” And, they might be right. If they’re all about ‘getting somewhere’. But at the end of their time in this world, that person might be very sad at who they’ve become.

“What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” Matt 16:26

4. Be prepared for God to use your challenges for your own good.  There will be times that are hard. You might work for a horrible person. You might be given tasks that suck the life out of you. You might be treated unfairly, or even fired unjustly and then struggle to find work. But God can work good out of anything. It might sound cliché when people say, “Where God closes a door, He opens a window.” Well, it DOES sound cliché… but it’s true! In my very own life, I’ve seen people become wiser and more faithful after going through great adversity. We can grow in astounding ways when we’re dealing with challenges. And that growth might be the very trait that will be needed of you in the future.

There requires a certain ‘holy detachment’ for us to step back and see God’s hand in our struggles. And sometimes it takes several years to pass by before we can see the good He has done. But be sure, God is there.

“Purity of heart is what enables us to see.” Pope Benedict XVI

5. You are not big enough to mess up God’s plans.  There is nothing you can do to mess up God’s plan. You are not big enough. Now, I’m not saying that we believe all our actions and choices are predestined – we are not acting out a grand chess game written out long ago in heaven. No, we have free will! Our actions matter and have consequences. But, if we are faithful and love God and truly seek His will in our lives, even if we do something incredibly stupid that veers us way from God’s path, He can bend the path to meet us. Or make a completely new one. God can make everything work for good, if we are willing to give it to him. So, take a deep breath and relax in that hope.

“Behold, I make all things new” Revelation 21:1

I once gave a talk at our church on discernment. In a room full of college students, a dark haired girl in the back raised her hand. “Why does it seem that I keep praying and do not hear a clear answer from God? I ask Him sincerely, because I want to do His will. Why won’t He show me a clear answer?” Her voice was full of pleading. I understood. I thought of certain issues in my own life that I have fervently prayed about for years. And I still seem to get no clear directive from heaven. Yes, I completely understood  her question, and wasn’t sure what to say.

After a few seconds of thought, I told her the following: I realize that if God gave me His answer to my pleading question, written in stone, clear as day, then I would pick that answer up and run with it. And, knowing me and my busy, distracted heart, I’d probably never pray about it again.

Maybe the reason he doesn’t give us a clear answer, is because He doesn’t want us to stop praying. He IS answering. But He doesn’t want us to stop praying.

So, my young friend, after all this, I don’t really have any clear answers. I’m not any more sure of what you are going to ‘do with your life’ than you are. Sorry! But do not be afraid. Keep praying and seeking. All will go well. It is hard, and new and uncomfortable. But be assured, there are good things waiting for you around the bend.

  • Mary Wallace

    Lauren…I will be sharing this with my students who are graduating. Good work!

    I will have my advice to a high school graduate going to college tomorrow. We’re thinking on the same lines!


    • Lauren Gulde

      Yes, it is that time of year, isn’t it!? I can’t wait to read your advice for high schoolers. I think that might be even more important than college grad advice!

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  • http://twitter.com/jdzondo Jason Elizondo

    Sending this to my nephew who will be graduating from A&M next weekend. Very timely :)

    • Lauren Gulde

      How exciting! Thanks for sharing this with him.

  • Laura Bonneau

    This is beautiful, Lauren, and great advice for anyone. Thank you!

    • Lauren Gulde

      You’re sweet Laura. Thanks for reading… all the way from MN! :)

  • Julia

    I am sharing this with my brother and sister, both graduating from Grad school very soon. I wish I could have read this during one of my many transition points in life! Sometimes we spend our lives trying so hard to avoid discomfort and challenge, or we think we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. I especially like the reminder to not fear adversity. It builds character, nothing is all for naught. Thank you, Lauren!

    • Lauren Gulde

      How exciting for them! I bet they are glad to have such a loving and supportive sister by their side!

  • Matt

    “I ask him sincerely, because I want to do His will. Why won’t He show me a clear answer?” Boy does that hit home – I feel her pain. Do you think it’s possible to work ourselves into such deranged circumstances that our best efforts at prayer are ineffectual and meaningless?

    • Lauren Gulde

      Matt, I don’t think our prayers are ever ineffectual and meaningless. I believe that there is a God and that He loves us and is merciful. And He never abandons us. I do know that sometimes life can be hard, and seem out of control. But He is still there. I think that ‘doing God’s will’ is actually more about who we ‘become’ than what we ‘do’.

  • Gerald

    Thank you for such a contemplative article. Its of great help to those undergoing such challlenges in their lives. Keep up. God bless you!

  • Esther Miranda

    Beautifully written Lauren! Every one of those 5 points rang true for me.

    To Matt, and in response to whether continued prayer is ineffectual and meaningless, I have this to add.

    I have sat in despair, in what many have described as “God’s holding pattern”, deep in the belly of the whale, wondering when my darkness would lift, and I have lived to come out happily on the other side. Today I can proudly say that the only reason I have stayed sane, was able to forgive and move on, give up on trying to find rationale or reason for everything that life threw at me, was because I found a way to stay faithful and trusting.

    Trust that God has a plan for you , one you do not yet know, a plan for good and not evil, a plan to use your talents, a plan to take you to places and people where you are meant to be. This may happen sooner, or much later, but it will happen if we stay faithful and trusting.

    God knows us better than we know ourselves. A favorite quote of mine…’the best place to be helpless is at the feet of a helpful, and caring God’ (unknown author).

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