Moving to university is culturally recognised as a huge life upheaval and challenge. However, in my limited experience, the time after graduating can feel more turbulent and void. All of a sudden, the university bubble in which you existed for at least 3 years either bursts or slowly diminishes. Friends gradually move away – dispersed across the country (or world!), online dissertation hand-ins, and eccentric graduations often mean the reality of leaving uni doesn’t hit you until late September when you don’t follow that familiar routine of packing your bags and bunting for your uni house.
By September you may have started an exhausting and crazy graduate scheme, perhaps you are back where you grew up for the first time in a while, you could be struggling to find a job in an over-saturated market and working in Morrison’s wondering what on earth you will ever use your Politics degree for?! In the months after I finished uni, I experienced a lot of those challenges particularly around friendships, faith and identity as I tried to wrap my head around the fact that I was meant to be some sort of functioning adult!
Friendships are precious, wonderful but complex at the best of times and this doesn’t change as you move away from uni. Something which I didn’t realise at uni was the extent of ready-made friendships you have with people who also want to spend their time playing Quidditch or football, dancing the night away, or enjoying lots of coffee!
Most universities are full of around 30,000 students which is a huge pool of people who you could be friends with and, crucially, you usually have the time to invest in those relationships. Time is one of the pronounced differences between friendships during and post-uni. It is something which is easily taken for granted, even in my third year many of my friends lived within a 5-minute walk meaning despite a pandemic we could have garden or doorstep fun in-between many walks! The post-uni dispersal across the country is one challenge but when you couple that with petrol prices, train fares and multiple working schedules sometimes a time to see each other feels like an insurmountable mountain!
For most of us, our first job after uni is the first time we have to juggle full-time work, socialising, church, resting, and serving and it can be completely overwhelming. I certainly didn’t realise how exhausting a full-time job is, especially when you are in a new town. For months ‘friendship’ felt like constant conversations of polite small talk with people I hardly knew (if I even got that far).
I remember describing the first few months of my job as “work, sleep, coffee, repeat” and at times life felt very lonely. It is so important to be honest about these challenges. I found it very reassuring to know other people feel a similar way heading into the post-uni unknown.
It is completely natural for your friendships to look different during different seasons of life. It is completely normal to be terrified and exhausted with them and a key truth to remember is that God remains the same and in control wherever you are. Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God and interceding for you in all the uncertainty and loneliness. Although, in all honesty, I could only comprehend this once I was through most of the dark, lonely moments of winter – life is much brighter when you see the sun for longer than an hour of the working day!
In many ways, university is a pivotal but sheltered time for your faith. If you have been involved in CU, you will have stepped out in huge faith with evangelism and had to stand on your own two feet with what you believe. However, often (but not always) this is within a context where people around you are facing the same challenges, doing mission together, supporting each other and comes with the opportunity to be involved with multiple Christian groups or activities.
One key challenge for me at uni was working out what not to do in terms of CU, church and the Christian bubble! Once I graduated I certainly had less overtly Christian activity each week and less Christians around me, but the mission to make Jesus known continues and can feel much more daunting when you are used to the context of CU mission.
We are Christ’s ambassadors, and he calls us to declare the good news of the gospel, on our everyday frontline to whoever we are with (2 Corinthians 5:20). Faithfully living out the truth of the gospel in our secular workplaces is such an important part of mission and brings much glory to God.
I have found it a distinct encouragement that God gives us our work to glorify him and therefore, no matter how out of depth we feel, that is always our objective: in whatever we do we work for the Lord with our whole heart for it is Him that we serve (Colossians 3:17. This has given me patience with difficult management, courage in stepping out of my comfort zone and peace when I question my purpose and situation.
Here are some recommendations of resources that I have found useful:
- Book: ‘Is this it?’ by Rachel Jones
- Book: ‘Fruitfulness on the frontline’ by Mark Greene
- The London Insitute for Contemporary Chrisitanity (LICC) website https://licc.org.uk/