College alone can be a hectic, tumultuous, and…unique experience – but no one ever talks much about the mental turmoil that can happen after graduation.
How do I even begin to find my place?
The post-graduation to-do list is pretty much a full-time job itself, let alone the very big and very real emotions that accompany that transition.
Networking, getting a resume and cover letter ready, trying to find jobs to apply for, and the waiting (OH GOD… the waiting) can be brutal.
Adult choices and concerns also come on so quickly.
Like possibly having to move back home, feeling scared to go back home because you loved the freedom and experience that college gave you, freaking out because pretty soon you’re going to be kicked off of your parent’s health insurance plan – the list is endless.
This may not be everyone’s experience, but it was mine.
Everything I thought I knew and the person I dreamed of being—completely blew up in my face after graduation.
I had no secure job yet, moved back home and immediately started job searching, all while feeling like a complete and utter fraud.
I catastrophized every small hiccup that got in my way and fully believed that I reached my peak in life and everything was downhill from there.
Deep down, I thought I had my chance at independence, freedom and adventure and lost it.
I just kept wondering… what was that experience all for?
Four years of what?
Accumulation of debt?
How did I even get to this point?
The person I thought I was, always trusted the process and thrived in the uncertain.
But this didn’t feel like her at all.
I kept thinking about little Olivia… would she shake her head at me? She thought she was going to be a famous movie star, would she be angry at me now for deciding to study journalism? Did I let her down?
The spiral of self-doubt during my post-graduation experience was probably the most difficult challenge I’ve faced.
And I’m a Virgo, I’m always prepared for a crisis at any moment, so that’s saying something.
Am I a fraud?
The job hunt alone can be utterly insane – but this was probably the biggest doubt I had in my mind- was I….lying?
Now I know I’m not alone in this, because I talk about it with some of my closest friends, but I constantly felt like I was bluffing on all my applications. It was the epitome of imposter syndrome.
ME? Worthy? Of a job?
Let me write five paragraphs of nonsense to prove to some person reading 50+ applications a day why I’m “special.”
To be totally honest, deep down that could not have been further from how I truly felt. How I really felt was the equivalent to a useless dead plant.
I wasn’t bluffing. I was doing everything I needed to do – establishing connections, sending applications and reflecting on my experience and what I’d learned.
I wasn’t being dishonest.
I just loathed the performative exaggeration during the whole job searching process. I was a post-college grad who wasn’t doing OK, so of course, I was going to feel awful pretending to be this bubbly ray of sunshine that thought she’d be an asset to a company.
The job search feels decently uncomfortable and unnatural. It’s especially the case when you’re still trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in the world.
What do I tell people?
“What is your degree in?”
“What are your plans?”
“Have you found a job yet?”
“Any job is experience, experience is better than no job experience.”
“Are you planning on settling down? Husband? Kids?”
And so on. We all know the endless rabbit hole of questioning.
This is the part that’s most infuriating— it feels as though other people (or even society at large) have expectations that you aren’t fulfilling.
The questions may at times be good-intentioned, but they can be so overwhelming for a new college grad.
I made an active effort to avoid people because I genuinely couldn’t stand it.
The ABSOLUTE worst part about this is the “advice.”
And advice from perspectives that are unfortunately very far off from the current reality–individuals who didn’t study the same major or go into the same field. Or folks who graduated during a completely different time or weren’t trying to job-hunt in the middle of a global pandemic.
It can be so frustrating and even downright discouraging.
I want this to comfort those who can relate.
People have every right to say whatever they want, but YOU have the right and the power to choose what you take as truth from them.
Why am I so angry with myself?
I think it’s very rare for any human to actively want to let others down.
But, feeling like you’re letting yourself down… that’s a different story.
That’s a complicated kind of hurt.
I have high expectations for myself. I don’t like letting myself down.
It has nothing to do with others because these emotions are targeted at me BY me.
Feeling as though I messed up at something I worked so hard for was the most agonizing feeling, and what caused the most mental distress.
It’s easy to cope with the fact that I might confuse people and let them down sometimes. It’s harder to feel like I’m letting myself down. It’s a pain that debilitates me, and I don’t wish it on anyone.
Above all, I was furious with myself.
Angry that I didn’t land my dream job immediately after college.
Sad that I felt jealous and inferior to others.
But most of all, I was upset with myself because my creativity and experience didn’t seem to be enough.
And I blamed myself for that.
But I didn’t need to.
And if you are feeling that way right now, neither do you.
You’re not alone, and it’s okay to feel this way.
I can confidently say this may have been the most transformative period of my life.
I’ve changed in many ways (for the better) and I am not the same person I was a year and a half ago.
Finding out what my passion is, what I want to actually do, where I want to go, choosing my life rather than letting pressure or fear choose– these are all lessons I am learning and will continue to learn–and that’s ok.
I’d rather go through the mental turmoil of processing every stage of my life than neglect my own feelings.
I only reached that sentiment while writing this, if I’m being honest.
If you’re sitting on the couch crying because of that rejection letter or because of family worrying you’re not making a good choice by waiting rather than settling, you’re loved.
I am with you.
You don’t owe anyone anything… ever.
If you take nothing away from this, please remember that statement.
It’s the biggest lesson I have learned, through each stage of this journey.
People can be curious and ask questions, but you don’t owe them a success story or a grand speech that validates what you’re doing. Choosing that is hard, and often requires you to withdraw and just allow people to think what they want.
But at the end of the day, perhaps truly believing that is where you do find the answers to the personal questions you’re asking.
Mentally detaching from others’ thoughts and persisting through pressure is scary. And uncomfortable. Even lonely at times.
But that’s OK.
You don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations but your own right now.
Choosing different paths from your family is OK. Telling people no is OK.
Not landing your dream job on that first (or second or third) round of applications is OK. Having a hard time and figuring things out on your own is OK.
If you or anyone you know is in this boat too, you’re not alone. I know the road is rocky. That feeling of being stuck…I get it.
But no matter what, the freedom of taking the pain in order to learn is going to be the most liberating thing to experience.
It’s easy to cave in, but it’s much harder to leap into the pit of darkness and uncertainty.
Can you learn valuable lessons from both? Sure. But ultimately, you know that choice was yours and you get to take whatever it is you want from it.
Not to be all rainbows and sunshine, but challenges truly do change us. Especially when we have to tackle them on our own. And also, when it’s so easy to give up because the world around us is overwhelming and wants us to.
In all honesty, I’m grateful for the adversity. If my dream career and life are all I hope they will be, I think they both deserve a version of me who is stronger, humbled and detached from shallowness.
I promise you, the transformation will bring out a side of you that you didn’t even know was there.
Everything is temporary, and this is only a small chapter in your life story.
Come out the other side knowing more about yourself and taking ownership of the choices you made.
Take the gifts of uncertainty and confusion—and learn.
For more on this topic from Her Track:
—How to Organize Your Job Hunt to Land Your Post-Grad Dream Career
—30 Life-Saving Tips for Crushing it in the Real World
—When Your Dream Job is No Longer Your Dream
—8 Ways to Jumpstart Your Career While You’re Still in College