My two youngest siblings just graduated, both from good universities, both with firsts. I hope they know what amazing achievements these are, and how incredible it is that they have something tangible and impressive that can never be taken away from them (unless it turns out that they are just very good at cheating). I have told everyone I know. I glow, full of sisterly pride, but I am nervous for them too.
When I finished my final university exam, six years ago last month, I remember walking outside into the sunshine that my revision-crazed eyes were so unused to, and feeling utterly empty. 18 years of full time study were abruptly over, with no pomp or circumstance. Education, that stern but kindly parent, let go of my hand and walked away, and I was alone. No one told me what to do next. There were no helpful leaflets, or Welcome to Real Life packs. No over-enthusiastic Reps showed me where to unpack or how to find the welfare office.
You knew it was coming but it still feels like missing the bottom step in the dark. Most of the support networks that surrounded you for the last decade or so are gone, and unless you are one of the fortunate few who knew you wanted to be a doctor (lawyer/accountant/teacher - delete as applicable) since time immemorial, you probably feel a bit lost right now. I know I did. Here's some advice for surviving what comes next:
Don't worry that you don't know what you're going to be. Hardly anyone does. You have years to figure that one out. Maybe you never will. Maybe it won't matter. People who leave university knowing exactly what they're going to do for the next 25 years are rare. Your twenties are for experimenting, experiencing, dipping in and out of careers, finding out what you love and what you hate, doing some travelling and making lots of mistakes along the way. You'll be surprised that some the things you thought you wanted turn out to be disappointing, and vice versa.
From here on in, you make your own luck. After university finished I was desperate for cash and got a ten day temp job hauling furniture around in an antiques warehouse. Three weeks later I was the office manager. Since then I've managed huge projects, worked alongside partners and CEOs from top firms, delivered presentations to executive boards in Europe via Skype, organised events for hundreds of people, coached MDs and train drivers, written words for thousands to read, and none of it was handed to me - I worked and worked and asked and volunteered and pushed myself and asked again. I cannot emphasise this enough: no one will give you any opportunity without you asking. Having a degree does not give you an automatic right to anything.
Don't be so afraid of losing everything that you try nothing. I wish I'd stopped being so terrified I'd lose my job or home or possessions all the time and just lived a bit more, maybe gone traveling or tried out for a job that sounded a bit nuts, or moved to a new city for a summer. There's a lot to be said for doing something every day that scares you. There's also a lot to be said for prudently planning your future security. Go figure.
Just because all your family and friends got 9-5 jobs, got married, had 2.4 children and took out mortgages does not mean you have to, (but it's really hard to not feel like you're failing if you don't!) The top regret reported by dying people is regretting living how others expected them to, rather than being true to themselves and living out their own dreams.
You can love your job, but it will never love you back. That's not to say you won't work for some great companies and people, but never forget you're ultimately expendable. I put my heart and soul into my first real job and it was very full on - one week I worked more than 90 hours - but when it was over I was heartbroken. Keep sight of what's important.
You'll look back in five years and be astounded by your confidence. Seriously - what you've achieved and things that phased you then that you wouldn't bat an eyelid at now will astound you. Bear that in mind every time you mess up at work, or get your heart broken, or find yourself unable to afford milk.