the identity and existential crisis
that is life immediately post-graduation
The time leading up to graduation is insane. It’s exciting, exhilarating, unreal, stressful, scary, emotional–essentially every sentimental feeling under the sun. You think of everything as a "last." Last time submitting an assignment three minutes before the deadline. Last time waiting for the bus as you go take your last final. Last time you’ll see your professors, colleagues, co-workers, bosses, some who you’ve been on this journey with for years now. And I sympathize with the anger and sadness for the class of 2020, whose "lasts" weren’t what they imagined.
But no matter what, you still graduate. You finish your degree. You get that final exam score, and then your final GPA, and then your fake diploma, and then your real diploma in the mail a few weeks later. And that $40,000 piece of paper is eternal proof that you completed your degree and that degree is yours for life. Finally.
Well, if you’re like me, whose main goal all of life was to graduate college and get a job in order to financially support myself so my parents could peacefully retire the moment I walked the stage, then you may be feeling just a little, like, what’s the word... stressed as fuck.
That’s three words, but they’re necessary. As soon as graduation weekend was over I felt an overwhelming sense of panic because I needed a job and I needed it now. I didn’t want to allow for time to wait. As far as I could tell, I didn’t have time to wait. My lease expired six weeks later, meaning I needed to find a new place to live before that, meaning I needed to get a job offer before that. And I hadn’t even started applying. Job hunting before graduation was out of the question; between everything I was trying to complete in order to graduate, there was no time to start on what I knew I needed to do afterward. I knew that before I could apply to jobs, I needed to update my resume and website, then find people willing to review them both–a whole exhausting process in itself. In the design program at Texas State, you’re able to do this through a class in your last semester. In the advertising program, you do it yourself whenever you have time.
Once you graduate, you enter the "real world." I entered the real world approximately five days after graduation. I woke up, sat in traffic for an hour, arrived at work in Austin at 9:00, alternated between actually working and working on my website all day, got off at 6:00 but stayed until 7:00 or 8:00 to avoid traffic and apply to jobs, then drive an hour home. More often than not, I continued when I got home and through the night.
This was my life now, until I found a job. Jumping in the river seemed lifetimes away. Eating tacos with my friends at three in the morning after a night of celebrating our lives' biggest accomplishment turned into me, red-eyed and hunched over my laptop, saving the 97th job I found on ZipRecruiter, exporting the same but slightly different cover letter for the 16th time, re-writing my resume descriptions over and over again until the words blurred.
It was hell. It felt like life was a ticking time bomb. But I obviously wasn’t going to die. I just didn’t know what would happen. And I HATED not knowing. It felt like I had a GPS in college. I knew what turn was coming up. I had multiple route options, some of which would take longer than others. I knew I could take a detour if needed. And I knew what the final destination was: Graduation.
Actually the final destination was the river
Not knowing was terrifying because there were so many possibilities. Would I even find a job? Would it be in Austin, where I wanted to work? Would it be in Houston? Would it be in Dallas? Do I want to work there? Do I really have a choice? Should I apply to jobs out-of-state? Could I handle moving out-of-state right now? Could I, realistically, pack up everything I own and drive across the country and start from scratch with no friends or family nearby?
What if I don’t get an offer before my lease is up? What if I have to move in with my parents? What if I get an offer right after that and have to move again? That’s just stressful and annoying to think about. What are my other options? What if I signed a short-term lease in Austin and kept applying to jobs? But short-term leases are expensive, how am I supposed to afford that? What if I do finally get a job here, and I hate it? What if everything I’ve worked towards results in a shitty job that I’m forced to accept because I feel like I have no other choice? But at least I’ll have a job–that’s better than nothing, right? How can I tell if I don’t get one in the first place?
These were all the thoughts rushing through my head that I was trying to articulate to my parents at brunch one weekend when I checked my email to find a rejection letter from the job I thought I had the best chance at getting, the one I was most excited about. Cue the first (and hopefully last) anxiety attack in my life, resulting in me hyperventilating in a paper bag outside the Wimberley Cafe, my abandoned Belgian waffle sitting inside. By now it was June 22, I had about a month to figure my shit out, and it was starting to get to me. The gradual increase of stress as each day passed without a job offer, driving nervousness into anxiety into the sense of complete loss of control of your life. It’s in others’ hands, now. People whose hands hopefully check their inboxes for recent job applicants. Little did I know what else life had in store for me in that month. Soon after I got a speeding ticket on my way to an interview. Two weeks after that I had to file a police report against an insane girl who had been continuously harassing me online. Oh, and my dog died. On the same day.
This girlie and I had a lot in common around this time
But you know what else happened that exact same day?
I got a job offer. My first one, and the one I really wanted, by some miracle. The next day I toured my apartment. I signed the lease that night. Suddenly, in a matter of 24 hours, everything worked out.
And isn’t that how it always happens? One day it all becomes fine. You get that impossible thing or finish that big thing or avoid that scary thing. One day you find yourself not thinking about it anymore. And you feel a sense of relief again. The same sense of relief I felt when I graduated, but it didn’t go by in the blink of an eye this time. I knew what I was doing for the foreseeable future and that was enough comfort for me.
So I moved to Austin on July 19. Started my job on July 22. And I felt similar to how I felt right before graduation: excited, accomplished, scared. These big life changes presented a whole new world of opportunities, anxieties, and lessons. I mean, that’s a given. You’re not in school anymore, and if you are, I’m assuming it’s very different from what undergrad was like. Your environment is different. Your daily habits and to-do lists are different. You’re not around as many of your friends. You could not be around any of your friends. You might be around total strangers. And your identity is different. All I knew in college was titles. I was a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. I was a newbie, active, alumnae, intern, manager. I was a student employee, advertising major, mass comm student, dean’s list student, sorority girl, amongst other things that get more trivial with time. You are who you are because these are the categories you fit into and identify with during this time. And that works fine for most of us. It works too well for some of us. To where when your time in that role ends, you don’t know what to do with yourself.
And that’s pretty much how adulthood has felt ever since. What do I do now? Who am I now? I have a job title. I have an apartment. After seven hours exploring IKEA I have furniture. By the way, no one prepares you for how exhausting, both physically and financially, furniture is. No one warns you to avoid IKEA’s delivery service because they’re notoriously late and will leave you on hold for two hours. There’s actually a lot of things I wish I could tell myself this time last year.
1. It’s okay to not know who you are right now. You’ll realize that part of growing is learning to identify yourself by your qualities instead of your titles. You’ll reevaluate who you are, now that the things that made you, for the past four years, you, have changed dramatically.
2. You’ll have more free time and freedom to do what you actually want to do, which is exciting but can make you feel sort of guilty when you decide you sometimes just… don’t want to do anything. But that’s fine. You’ve been doing things your entire life. You’ve done SO MUCH so that you could get here, and not do anything, and not feel guilty about it. So don’t.
3. Eventually you will do something. And it’ll help you discover who you are and what you like now and what you want to put your time and money towards. And these things will probably change a thousand times. You’ll follow through with some of them and completely abandon others. Some you’ll just forget about and pick up again later on. And that’s fine, because you don’t have to do everything right now.
4. The things you do end up doing should, ideally, be beneficial for your mental health. In fact you’ll find that focusing directly on your mental health, via a combination of medication and therapy, was the most beneficial change you could’ve made. But not everything you do will be beneficial to your mental health, and you’ll have to come to term with those things and actively work to fix them, because they won’t just disappear like magic, even with meds and therapy.
5. This also means rethinking which friendships stayed alive only because you were in the same vicinity versus which friendships stay alive because they are genuine. And somehow you’ll appreciate those genuine friendships even more than before. Hint: It’s the friendships where both people are willing to grow.
6. You’ll feel super rich at first and won’t know how to behave because all your life you’ve only known part-time jobs with near-minimum-wage. Don’t fool yourself though; the government takes out more in taxes than you thought and you get nervous whenever you deplete your savings too much, so just… don’t. You’ll buy a book to help with this. You won’t read it. Maybe this time next year.