It’s been a year.
Are you as happy as you expected? Do you have the post-grad life you pictured?
What about your job? How’s it going?
Are you excited right now thinking about it? Or do you feel deflated?
It’s been a year, and I don’t think I can answer those questions with the confidence that I’d once expected. We stood together with that special type of pride—the kind where you rejoice with your peers and feel joy in the midst of humility. Our forebears watched as we congratulated each other not only on what we had accomplished but on the next chapter we collectively anticipated.
And now that we’ve turned the first few pages of that next chapter, I find myself devoid of the optimism that gave me an ear-to-ear smile just a year ago. I’m bitter, in a way, because what I’d trusted would become reality has not, and there is not much hope that it will in the near future. I didn’t realize that the happiness that came with studying with friends, being involved in organizations on campus, or simply living near my peers would disappear after we all left school. I knew habits would change, but I didn’t expect the resulting doses of daily laughter and an expansive support system to disappear. For my entire education, I passed people in the hallway. I saw my friends at organizational meetings. I celebrated a shared identity with thousands of my peers. And now there are no hallways, I meet friends over FaceTime, and the shared identity I have with my coworkers is not the same one I had with my classmates.
There’s really no other way to describe it other than feeling lost. What was familiar has been wiped away, and I have to find a new way to navigate day-to-day life. It’s overwhelming.
At the beginning of May, I went to UGA’s graduation to support the class below me. I sat with my younger friends—those still looking forward to graduation rather than looking back upon it—and immediately felt out of place. They greeted me with excitement and happiness, and it overwhelmed me. Their energy seemed like a memory, rather than like something to which I still subscribed. I felt myself thinking, “just wait…that will leave you too,” and it was like a shot of vinegar had been poured into my brain without my permission.
They, along with the graduating class, listened carefully to the inspiring words shared by the administration and speakers. Everyone nodded their heads and smiled at the determination laced into each message, and in the space where I felt tugs at my heart a year before, I felt my eyes roll in equal portions of shame and bitterness.
There is no dream job after college. Rather, we all head into the entry-level “dream” that requires a lot of pride-swallowing and networking. It’s ironic because, during graduation, we reach our point of highest pride, only to be knocked down to our lowest shortly thereafter. Pride does not have much of a place in your first months at an office.
I was the champion of finding a job that you love, and I still hope to do that, but I now understand that a job that you love is not something you work toward in college. During college, you lay your initial foundation, upon which you still have to lay floorboards and build walls. Your major does not determine your future quality of life, but I still hoped mine would. I studied what I wanted to study because I felt it would automatically equip me to do what I wanted to do. But your major just places you on a path, and for some, it won’t even be the one you follow.
Once I took my first unguided steps on my chosen path, I realized all the different options out there. Suddenly, careers unattached to college majors became visible, and given the number of opportunities, I wondered why I was never taught about any of them, or at least pointed in their direction. As graduates, we can do anything and everything, but we all seem to search for the one thing that is going to bring us fulfillment. I find myself exhausted by the possibilities, which, again, is not something I ever expected to admit to myself. But here I am, unable to make firm career choices because I fear the unknown outcomes that come with each pivot.
Furthermore, my energy is drained because the support system I grew to love has evolved. The people I leaned on are in different places and play different roles, and even though there is new beauty in this change, it still takes a while to adjust. I return to my college town hoping that I can find some semblance of what once was under a forgotten stone, but all I find is nostalgia. The town I lived and truly grew up in will never be the same because the people I experienced this transition with will never return in the same phase or at the same time. It was all a fleeting moment, and I didn’t accept the provisional nature of what became familiar.
And after going back to see it all paraded in front of me with new eyes, I see how much has changed. It feels as if I’ve lost the hopefulness I once found pride in, leaving me at times without direction, focus, or drive.
At the end of my college career, I wrote a piece about fear, and about running toward it in the future—it was one of the greatest lessons college taught me. But now, I find myself stagnant and burdened by hesitation. Mistakes have greater consequences, and having a “bias for action” has become cliché. I wonder if I’d be able to lean into these same fearful decisions if I had those hallways filled with friends and teachers who supported me. I wonder if I’d be able to make changes quicker, or if I would subscribe to what everyone else was doing.
There’s no way to know, but I do know that college is defined differently in my mind now, as hard as that might be for me to swallow. What seemed an almost insurmountable period of life for so long, is now a few pages of my past. Life beyond college was forever an uncertain dream, and now that I’m in it, it’s far less dreamlike and much more mundane than I’d hoped. It is time to redefine my reality; this so-called “freshman year of life” is now coming to a close, and just like any sophomore, I still don’t really know what I’m doing.
Rather than sage advice, I find myself only in need of one thing: togetherness. This is not the hardest thing we will face, but it is something we are all facing simultaneously and in our own way. I miss being around all of the people that I would have visited to talk about it. The end of this year marks the time where we all begin to diverge; our careers become distinctive and the steps we take are all at different paces. And feeling separated from one another is both sad and necessary, but it does not mean that our connections must disappear.
In her memoir My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem writes about the ceremonies she witnesses most often during her travels. She says of her time on college campuses, “Most of all, I love graduations. They are individual and communal, an end and a beginning, more permanent than weddings, more inclusive than religions, and possibly the most moving ceremonies on earth.” I was naive to think that my beginning would resemble my end. Graduation was one of, if not the, best days of my college career because it was the culmination of everything I’d worked toward and everything my friends had worked toward. For so long, it felt like we were all staring at a closed door, and graduation was the celebratory moment where we all got to open it on the count of three, together. The other side looks far different from what I’d hoped it would.
This is my admission that things are not what I expected and that I have times where I feel deflated as a result. I may not laugh as often, but now I get to seek out things and people who are funny. My support system may not be dozens of people “investing” their time in me or being “intentional” with our relationship, but it makes up for in depth what it lost in breadth. My career may be nebulous, but I’ve found that getting lost is the only way to find places I would have never expected to go. It’s been a year, and I do not have the life I pictured. I’m not as happy as I want to be, and I am drained by what I work on from 9:00 to 6:00. I’ve lost confidence, and I’m admitting it now so I and we can figure out where to go from here.