Spoiler Alert: It's okay to not know what you're doing.
It's that time of the year again, when the weather gets warmer and college seniors begin to spiral at the thought of a new chapter in their lives starting as one comes to a close. Just last May I was one of these anxious, semi-optimistic people and honestly I still might be, and that's okay.
It's just shy of year since I graduated college and I'd be lying if I said I'm exactly in the position I thought I'd be in. I remember starting my final semester and feeling both excited and like I wanted to throw up. Excited for the next chapter in my life and confused on how this one would be coming to an end. I had known this routine of school for the entirety of my life and I had grown accustom to this freedom and lifestyle over the last few years. Now, while I understand that each person's life after college is not the same and I can only reflect on my experience and give advice based off of that, I know that change is a universal theme for all college graduates. While it is scary and can feel daunting, it is inevitable and is the only way we can grow.
Currently, I live back at home in South Jersey and work retail at my local mall. I have applied to more jobs than I can count and have cried til I thought I was going to throw up. I've struggled with depression and anxiety and I have felt like a failure. Now, I'm not writing this to scare you or for you think "oh my god I'm doomed". I'm writing this to let you know that it's ok to not know what you're doing or for you to know exactly what you want but have just not seemed to get there yet. Post-college life is hard, but you also learn a lot about yourself, it's a blessing in disguise.
While moving back home is not what I had envisioned for myself post-grad, it's where I'm at, slowly but surely I'm becoming more and more okay with that. The first couple weeks after coming back and sleeping in my childhood bedroom were definitely an adjustment to my newfound reality. While I still had freedom it was not the same as what I had at school and I found myself slowly sinking into old habits that were not the healthiest. I could feel myself shriveling up and deteriorating back into my 16-year-old self (and trust me she should never see the light of day again).
A majority of my summer consisted of being asked the million dollar question, "So what are you up to now that you're done school?". If I had a dollar for every time I got asked this question I'd have my student loans paid off and I'd be able to fill up my gas tank instead of doing the old 20 regular. I think it's a funny thing that we put so much pressure on ourselves to have everything together and have a set plan for after college. I have never felt so old and so young at the same time. In my head I find myself constantly thinking "you're 23 you need to get it together" but at the same time I have to remind myself "you're only 23, you have time everything is going to work out". A lot of this comes from comparison, not only to my friends but to people on the internet my age, especially people on apps like Tik Tok. It can be easy to look at someone like Alix Earle for example and think "well she's my age and doing all these things, what am I doing wrong?". The answer is you aren't doing anything wrong, you're life is just on a different path. Trusting the timing of my life has been a big thing I've had to really work on being okay with. Everyone's life is on a different trajectory, just because things are working out for your friend and not you doesn't mean you're doomed or less than them, it just means that better things are coming down the line and that's great. If you find yourself thinking too much on the things that don't go your way you're going to drive yourself crazy, trust me I've streamed "Nothing New" by Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers far too many times (yes, I am aware of how dramatic this sounds).
I've always been someone who is very critical of themselves. I put all this pressure on myself to the point where I feel like I'm going to combust and have an anxiety attack. The older I get the more I realize a lot of people are like that, we expect so much more from ourselves then others do. If I make a mistake I feel like an incompetent moron, and since I think that then everyone else around me must think that too. When the reality, no one cares. You're gonna spend the rest of your life making mistakes, especially in your 20s. Once you realize that everyone around is so busy trying to figure out their life then the weight on your shoulders starts to feel a lot lighter.
Mentally, this past year has been challenging. I have found trying to occupy my time with hobbies such as reading short stories, writing bad poetry, running on the treadmill til I think my lungs are gonna burst, or even listening to music that sounds like it would get played in a local Applebee's really help. Still, this doesn't stop the far too often breakdown in the Planet Fitness bathroom after looking on LinkedIn to see someone else you know getting a job. LinkedIn has become both my best friend and my greatest enemy. Whenever I go on I find myself getting slightly more discouraged and I'll even say slightly jealous. Seeing people that I know getting jobs or posting about their accomplishments kinda makes me mad. This might be a bad thing to say but I'm human. It's a tricky thing because I'm excited to see people around me thriving but at the same time there is that little voice in the back of my head that's saying "why can't that be me? why can't I find a job?'. It all comes back to realizing that the path your life is on is not the same as the people around you.
Despite what I've said, post-grad life has not been a nightmare, there is a lot of good in it. Since I've moved back home I've been able to spend time with people in my life I haven't been around so consistently for the past few years. While living with my parents, two brothers, and our two dogs barking at the crack of dawn has been an adjustment it's been nice feeling like a whole family again. When I went off to college my youngest brother was in sixth grade and now he's finishing up his junior year of high school. It's weird to think that I was watching him grow up and not watching him grow up at the same time. When you're away at school you really do kinda feel like an outsider looking in on your family's life. While I would talk to them consistently it's not the same as actually living in the same house as them. Since moving back home I've also been able to see my friends from high school pretty much every weekend. It's nice having people in your life that you can be around and it feels like no time has passed. Surrounding yourself with people that make you feel like you matter is a key part in feeling ok with all the uncertainties in your life. When I'm with these people I never feel like I have to second guess myself or feel like I'm less then. There are gonna be people you lose touch with after you graduate college, and that's ok, it doesn't mean that anything is wrong it just means you were meant to meet them when you did and you were meant to have them in your life when you did. Every person that comes into and out of our lives is there for a reason and it can be nice to look back on your memories with them and think about just how much they impacted your college experience.
I've spent a lot of my time thinking about what I didn't want out of life and my future, for some reason that's always come easier to me. It may be because when you say what you don't want something, you don't feel disappointed when you don't get it or it doesn't work out. Being optimistic has never come easy to me, when I find myself being optimistic I find that I'm often let down so it's easier just to not get my hopes up. This is funny because I've never been someone with simple goals for them self, I've always been someone to dream big but I keep it to myself. I have this fear that if I say it out loud then somehow it'll go south. I'm realizing now that this has kept me back from trying and going after things I've wanted, all out of fear of failing or that I won't live up to my own expectations of myself.
Whether you're about to graduate college, already graduated, or are just in your 20s my advice to you is to just take breathe. Life is not as serious as it may seem, everything is going to work out. Stressing yourself out is not going to help anything, you're gonna be ok, you're doing great. Comparison is the devil on your shoulder. Fake it til you make it. Most people are not nearly as confident as they seem, but they fake it until they believe it. Life isn't a sprint, it's a marathon and being in your 20s you aren't even close to being at the finish line. So this year isn't going exactly how I expected, and that's ok. Do I get yelled at by middle aged women over online returns almost everyday at a job where I make minimum wage? Sure. Did I consider getting bangs? More times then I care to admit. Have I thought about going off the grid? Who hasn't am I right? The point I'm trying to make is that I know everything is gonna work out and when things go wrong all I can do is laugh, maybe cry, and just move on. There are still so many good things that I have yet to experience that I know once I do it'll make all the shitty stuff worth it.
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