We spend a lot of time and money during college to gain a degree but none of those expenditures really go into preparing us for life after that degree. Especially, when it comes to mental health. We don’t discuss what happens if you don’t get a job immediately in your field, we don’t discuss how to navigate transitioning from a student to being an employee (or self-employer), we don’t discuss how to deal with the sudden “loss” of a community or routine that has been part of your life for four years or more. We don’t discuss how weird it may feel to move back home after years of living independently. We don’t discuss the challenges of moving out in your own and those new responsibilities. We don’t discuss how to cope with the successes or failures that one may encounter in those few years after getting a degree.
You are handed a degree and suddenly expected to know how to be an adult. Am I asking for a handbook with a map to life? No, that’s crazy. No one’s life looks the same. You understand life by experiencing it, defining your own journey. Nonetheless, why don’t we ever take time to discuss, acknowledge the new realities that many new graduates may encounter. Why don’t we ever pause and teach students that a degree is not the magical answer to all, and dwell a little bit more on the changes that come ahead after college.
Conversations as such are necessary and would be helpful for many graduates. I think it would have been helpful for new graduates to be mentally prepared to know that these challenges in life are not individual, isolated experiences. It would have cushioned the blow to be able to know that we can speak on these things freely and be taken seriously. Tweeting a sarcastic statement about life that goes viral is nice and all, however we cannot truly deduce how (and if) others relate to these experiences and are not sure if we are welcomed to speak on it in real life. Additionally on social media, a lot can occur that suggest that others have a more successful life, leading to comparison and feelings of inadequacies. Additionally there is often a lot of pressure in remaining private about your hardships and only showing your successes. No one is supposed to know you are having a hard time, everyone who posts seems to be living the luxury life…it can all quickly feel very isolating. Even though you know that “not everything on social media is real” it can be hard to apply that and remember that. It’s often made seem that facing difficulties in life is not normal. Something must be wrong with you if you are encountering that.
Something must be wrong with you that you haven’t found a job or don’t know your next step after college. Something must be wrong with you that you live with your parents or that even though you are living on your own, cannot afford luxury living conditions. Something must be wrong with you that you can’t afford to buy (insert expense here) when you have a full time job (albeit at times employers may not recognize your value to pay you enough to live comfortably in this economy and you have to find a way to negotiate for bigger pay which is a whole different challenge as a new graduate). Something must be wrong with you that you are not satisfied with your new job experience or may desire a new career now.
It has been a little over a year since I graduated and it’s been quite the journey. I think everything has been exasperated with the pandemic, nonetheless I often wonder how recent graduates are coping with life after college. Like am I the only thinking…this ain’t all that, yet? Am I the only feeling kind of lost and stuck? It’s like I want to move forward, I know what I want or I’m still figuring it out, but yet I constantly feel dubious or feel like I don’t have the right tools to move forward?
As someone who was also deeply involved with my community during undergrad, I have also been navigating my identity without these roles defining me anymore. The roles were a form of community, identity, validation and now that they are not a part of my life anymore, I have had to pause and think about who am I outside of those roles, outside of being a student. If these passions are something I want to continue investing in, how can I do so without my college community?
I think even with my experiences of being: basically responsible for myself throughout adolescence and early adulthood, having had the multiple jobs, the good head on my shoulders thing, taught to be independent, I still feel unprepared for these life challenges.
And sometimes it’s hard to not beat yourself up for it.
As the oldest child in my family, I often think about how can I use my experiences to help my younger siblings navigate through things they may encounter when they get to my age or older stage in life. With my brother soon reaching this milestone, I often wonder how can I prepare him for this when I don’t feel prepared and I’m living it. All I know is I will for sure provide a safe place for him to speak on his experiences and let him know that whatever he may encounter ahead he’s not alone.
Book of the month: The story of the lost child by Elena Ferrante. I’m finishing up the fourth and last book of this marvelous neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante. Highly recommend, such an enjoyable read. What I love about this series is that it gave me so much more time to grow alongside the characters. Usually books narrate only a small period of life, but with these novels we get to navigate the entire life of our beloved Lina and Lenu and their neighborhood. Book review coming soon.