When I was in college, a phrase I heard pretty frequently from friends or family that had already graduated was “stay there as long as you can.” And while a lot of my fellow classmates seemed to share this mindset and were determined to prolong ‘The College Experience,’ I was quite ready to graduate, thankyouverymuch.
In fact, when I learned I had the option to graduate a year early, I took it and ran (or rather walked quickly across the stage at graduation 3 years after I started my college career). One year less of college? Yes please.
As I talked about in my post, ‘The best 4 years of your life & other myths about college,’ I think that there can be somewhat unrealistic expectations when it comes to our time in college. However, in a way, it is nice because typically in college we live in a little bubble; a separate world where responsibilities are minimal and freedom feels abundant. It is understandable, therefore, when suddenly being in ‘the real world’ can be a rude awakening.
It took me a few months to fully process the transition. Pretty much immediately after I graduated and moved back home to Charleston, I found myself employed and had discovered a solid community of young adults who welcomed me with open arms (I know, what were they thinking, right?). I kept myself busy enough to where the enormity of leaving college behind didn’t have the opportunity to really sink in.
For a glorious couple of months I really thought I had it all figured out.
Not the case.
As it turned out, that job was not the right one for me. This was pretty upsetting as what I thought I wanted and what I felt I should want, just was not right. Which left me with zero understanding of what was. For a few months I struggled to come to terms with this, convinced there was something wrong with me instead of the situation.
When I finally accepted the truth, the feeling of what I am I doing with my life hit me for the first time with full force.
I finally got it. Why they said to stay in college, the disbelief that I would leave college before I needed to…yep. I get it now.
After you graduate is the first time you do not have a concrete goal staring you in the face, something you know you should work toward. Leaving school (even after a Masters or PhD) leaves you with a vast ocean of murky waters that is the future. This uncertainty of what is coming next, of what you’re supposed to do next, is pretty terrifying. Because even if you do get the job…then what? You stay there for the rest of your life? Is this it? And what if you don’t like it, your dream career isn’t what you thought it would be, now what?
That is the terror.
But the good news is that there is so much beauty in post-grad or ‘adulting’ as the kids say these days, that, in my opinion, outweighs the bad.
The truth is that we now have the opportunity to do whatever we want; to be whoever we choose to be; to fulfill the mission no one else can because it has been given to you, individually.
I think this freedom feels so terrifying for two reasons:
1- We feel constrained by the expectations/hopes of others (friends, family, society…whoever) or even our own ideas of what success looks like and what we think we should do.
2- We don’t know what that mission is.
These doubts can paralyze us and invoke in us feelings of helplessness over our own lives. Having experienced this myself, these are a few ways I’ve dealt with this that have helped me and might help you as well.
You don’t have it all figured out right now, and that is okay. The truth is that no one does, no matter how old they are, how much experience they’ve had or what they say on social media. There will never be a bright, neon arrow pointing you in the right direction. Our purpose is something we feel out step by step, following what brings us peace and joy. Despite hard times and temporary setbacks, our mission isn’t something that will ultimately bring us feelings of doom and despair. If you feel completely scared and overwhelmed, take a minute to breathe and know that it’s okay not to know right now, that understanding will come when you relax and accept the present moment as it is (uncertainty and all).
Take a time out.
We don’t like quiet; we don’t like stillness. It makes us uneasy and can bring out our fears in a way that non-stop busyness is better at suppressing. But taking time to just be is essential to knowing ourselves and the right path for us. Although action is also very necessary and certainly sometimes feels better or easier, truth also finds us when we take time to just be (note: BE not THINK. Getting stuck in our heads can be ultra unproductive).
So whether it’s a few minutes in the morning or even right now, go to the beach, a park, your backyard or just sit where you are and breathe. Empty your mind of the thoughts racing around and fears threatening to overwhelm you. You are not your thoughts and your fears do not have power over you.The sooner you can be comfortable with being still, the faster peace can find you and seep into the rest of your life.
Pursue what brings you peace & joy.
You may not know what you want to do career-wise, but you do know things that make you happy. Maybe it’s baking, walking your dog, reading a good book, writing, surfing, running…activities that bring you joy and get you out of your head without even trying.
Things that do not fall under this category are: watching TV, shopping, playing video games or going on any type of social media. While these activities can be enjoyable, they are typically mindless and a way of escaping reality instead of embracing it fully. The reason we need to do the activities that are in the first category is because they are an essential part of who you are. Often we dismiss these things as hobbies that don’t deserve our time, when in fact they reflect a really deep part of you. Yes, it’s true that just because you like to dance doesn’t mean you should be a professional dancer, but taking time to dance is embracing who you are by doing something you love. And the more we know and love ourselves, the easier it will be to understand how that aligns with our purpose.
I hope this helps, I know how completely terrifying post-grad life can seem, but we have to remember the beauty of the ability to pursue our mission and become the best version of ourselves that is of most service to others.