Mark Gauthier: Get your roadmap ready, graduates

Summer is upon us. I look around and see countless “congratulations” signs that signify the move from high school to college or college to career or school to real world. This is a time of major life change for all graduates, and there’s no better time to unfurl the roadmap that will transition you to the next stage of life.

If you’re looking at your time as a student in the rearview mirror, chances are you’re about to enter the full-time working world, so how can you navigate that transition successfully? How do you handle what comes next?

An important part of a successful transition is simply recognizing that you are in a transition and knowing the areas of your life where you should expect a loss of equilibrium. Important parts of your life are in flux, and things may feel different.

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I feel privileged to have spent my career working with college students. You face more stress and anxiety today than ever before. The world and its pressures are constant. And yet, I see in you unquenchable hope and promise, driving you toward your goals and dreams with optimism. And achieving those goals is a lot smoother with direction.

I’ve advised hundreds of young adults on the precipice of launching into life post-school to create a 12-month roadmap. The first year after your school career is a sweet spot for establishing healthy patterns that will be helpful for the remainder of your adult life, but this type of plan can be useful during other big life transitions as well.

My charge to you, graduate, is to map a course that will help you successfully navigate the exciting time of transition ahead of you.

Establishing your own roadmap can take the stress out of the transition, helping you to become intentional, and focused about your growth and progress in key areas of life: work, community, personal management, finances and faith. But areas of growth can really be boiled down to this: calling, people and purpose.

Find your calling. What are your long-term career goals? What are you passionate about? What kind of work makes your heart skip a beat? Ideally, we all want to do that. But it’s also important to remember that nearly all of us will make important pit stops along the way. Your first job may not be your dream job, but it can certainly be an important step in the right direction. Regardless of the job, maximize the opportunity. Consider your actions and attitude at work: be on time, go the extra mile, make friends with your co-workers.

And holding down your first job can provide a valuable opportunity to learn ancillary skills. Do things like create a written weekly schedule, develop a personal budget, or make a repayment plan to get out of credit card and student loan debt.

Find your people. With technology and packed schedules increasingly distracting us, we are becoming lonelier and more disconnected than ever. I believe community is central to success, because relationships are the context in which growth happens. When you choose to journey with others, you expose yourself to perspectives and ideas that will position you to better handle adversity and diversity.

A community is more than just individual friendships; it is an atmosphere of deep relationships, a synergistic place where friends connect in grace and truth. Maintain an inner circle of friends who will listen to you, love you and challenge you. Friends who aren’t afraid to call you on the carpet occasionally are real friends, so keep them around. But don’t forget to leave space in your life for new relationships.

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Find your purpose. Life coaches often recommend taking time out a few times a year to reflect on our lives — where we are and where we are going. Some pastors might call it the spiritual discipline of solitude. This time allows you to step back and reconnect with your non-negotiables. As a Christian leader, I believe it’s also important to take this time to reconnect with God. During your first year after graduation consider planning two or three timeouts to re-evaluate the trajectory of your roadmap.

My charge to you, graduate, is to map a course that will help you successfully navigate the exciting time of transition ahead of you. “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” May this be true of you in the days ahead.