Hello, and welcome. Happy New Year! I hope 2016 unravels good health, exhilarating surprises and great destinations for all of us. This post was inspired after speaking to some friends who were inquiring about the “unknown life” post graduation. So voila boys and girls, I am extending this post to anyone curious about where the white rabbit takes you after university.
Disclaimer: this topic is very subjective and experiences of individuals may vary. This is no set-in-stone prediction for recent graduates but rather a recount of my personal journey.
You Lose Structure
During university, you live inside a rollercoaster cabin; you have absolutely no time in your day because you have to deal with quizzes and assignments, show up at meetings on time while still squeezing in lunch, laundry and washing your hair (aka dry shampoo). The pressure really shapes what you do and how you craft your organizational skills. You have things to look forward to - like the weekend or the next stretch of holidays. However, when you’re out of school and you roll in a blob of timelessness, you freak out because the first time in twenty-two years, you don’t have to get ready for school. Your alarm went off at 8:30 am? You hit the snooze button and it rang again at 8:40 ? Well, it’s not like you have a conference call to get to. Your pulp and paper business deal with moguls in Hong Kong can wait. The reality is: you are living back home, in the basement of your parents’ house, relax — sleep an extra hour. You have nowhere to be.
You Lose Identity
When you are in a class with 300, 50, or 25 other students, you are continuously interacting and socializing with them. You're constantly challenged, and you get social feedback on almost everything you say or do. Whether it is the way you dress, the way you titled your last term paper, or that point you raised in class questioning gender norms. You send off these rays of “self” to your surroundings, and they come shooting back with good or bad feedback. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that we don’t really see ourselves as who we are, but rather we come to realize our idea of “self” based on an understanding of how other people perceive us. I’m not going to know if I am a good photographer or an adequate writer unless someone else validates it for me. We all need that feedback, no matter how much self-confidence and self-esteem we have. As social beings, we construct our self-image through the responses and evaluations of others in our environment. So when you’re out of school, and you’ve left your university’s town, your social network diminishes and you no longer get the responses that you relied on.
You Lose Confidence
After your 27th cover letter, you write “I am a strong contender for this position because….” and then you stop to ask yourself “really? I don’t believe it anymore” When you have written that many cover letters, with no promises of any interviews in the near future you really start to doubt yourself. You wonder, “Why did I study that hard to raise my GPA? No one really cares about your GPA anyway ”or “I should have gone out more, maybe then I would have made more connections into the real world.” Whatever your regrets may be, you end up questioning your abilities and you become jaded with the whole idea of applying to jobs behind a computer. You’ll say things like, “how can I prove to them who I am through a piece of paper, they do not really know me or what energy I can bring to work.” You stop for a while, recuperate, and start again.
You Lose Your Creative Outlets
Remember all your side-projects you never had time for? The reason you thought about them so much was because you could never possibly fulfill them within your academic time constraints. You would say something like:“Ugh, I have final tomorrow, I wish I didn’t have to study for this and was watercolor painting instead” “If I had more time, I would go to the gym more often” “If I didn’t have to go to class, I would be taking pictures outside.” This pretty much sums up how I lived the last four years of my undergrad — unceasingly complaining about “how academia was killing my creativity.” However, once I graduated and was floating in an ocean of leisure time, I no longer had the urge to escape academic stress by clinging onto fun projects. I only liked doing them in comparison to something I disliked. Many times, I would write a blog post or edit a photo in the middle of a chemistry lecture — I thought it was therapeutic and a good use of my time. It felt amazing to multitask; to take notes on carcinogens and retouch blemishes on Photoshop on a single screen. Yet, in the course of this interim period, I learned something about myself: I don't like my hobbies unless I have something distasteful to balance it with.
You Have To Answer People
This is something I struggled with the most and it took me a long time to accept my situation. Right after final exams in April, I went to India, and it felt amazing to finally be doing something I had always dreamt of. However, my internship had an expiry date and once my time was up, I had to come home. With no 9-5 job waiting for me back in Canada, I came back to this static uneventful life, as opposed to the life I was living there (yes, I had a severe case of post-traveling blues and I don’t wish this feeling upon anyone).
By September, most people in my graduating class were already in grad school making something of themselves, while I was hanging out with my two cats — enroute to becoming a crazy cat lady.
When I got back, my friends and family would ask me numerous questions about how it was like, how brave I was, or what my next grand move was. To me, the humanitarian trip didn’t seem like a big deal because I was comparing myself to all the geniuses at McGill — girls my age were designing innovative solar-backpacks for underprivileged kids in Kenya. To me, I was a nobody.
“So Mina, what's next after McGill? India? What’s next for you Miss Globe Trotter??” Or my mother would ask "when are you applying to Law School?" It felt quite uncomfortable to be placed under this social pressure of “having all the answers.” At anytime if I responded with “I do not know,” or that “I am in a dark place right now” they would swiftly comeback with phrases like “that’s so unlikely of you, I thought you were strong, I thought you were a go-getter!” Everyone from your grandmother to your parents, your friends, and that one girl who sat next to you in Swahili class, wants to know what you are doing.
I understand that they mean no harm yet when you’re trying so hard to figure things out by yourself, those repetitive aforementioned questions can really trigger anger and frustration. I've been in school from age three to twenty two. I’ve had no time to test things out because I've been so consumed with getting good grades. Good grades that serve no purpose to me right now. Therefore, if you know someone who just got out of high school or university, try not to pester him or her with your questions —despite your good intentions— because most probably they don’t know what they’ll be doing, and are still trying to resolve things on their own time.
The only advice I can give to anyone graduating within the next few months is to plan your summer and your time off accordingly. I personally am a strong advocate of traveling, meeting new people, and learning more about the world. This interim time is perhaps the only occasion where you are stripped from your school and work responsibilities. Go travel but make sure you have a plan and something to look forward to when you are back. No matter how long or short your trip is, you still have to get back and face your dilemmas. If you want time off, go ahead and take time off, in fact – you deserve it! Kick back with hours and hours of uninterrupted Netflix, living rent-free with warm home-cooked meals; yet, give yourself a deadline. Two weeks can easily become two months, if not two years, within a blink of an eye.
If you’ve had no luck finding a job, sign up for an evening class, or volunteer at your local community center. You never know of the tiny unexpected opportunities that may arise from doing something absolutely different (a classmate I met in one of my evening classes just offered me a job five days ago – no jokes). Sometimes, you may even go back to your old high school job and stand for eight hours on your feet earning minimum wage. That’s okay though, there’s no shame in that (I did it). Do anything that will put you on a roll and give your life some structure while keeping your eye on the ball. Try different things and test your likes and dislikes, and the next time someone asks you about what you are doing with your life, direct them to this blog post.
I hope this little piece of thought can be useful to you or anyone else going through the same situation. Until next month
Á tout á l’heure
Mina is a multimedia journalist currently based in London, U.K.
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