A month ago, I graduated from college. I graduated Magna Cum Laude. I defined myself by these things: my academic achievements, officer positions, social networks. It’s privileged Darwinism, a gilded pissing contest. Competition is everything. It isn’t trying unless you are gasping for breath. There is no effort without sacrifice, and at one point or another, I became the only thing left that I hadn’t fed to the Gods of my Ego. The funny thing is, you don’t feel it when ego inevitably claims yourself as well.
It was the end of my junior year when I realized how consumed I was by what I was. Drowning in commitments, overworked, out of sleep, and marooned on an island of my own achievements, I ran into a friend of mine from freshman year. We began exchanging pleasantries. She asked me how I was. I replied with, “good”. “Good” is the default, despite graying under eyes and hollow lungs and the feeling of cement hardening on my shoulders. Still, “good” comes out for fear of being seen as damaged, broken, or scary. She called my bluff. Tears began running down my face. The emotions I carefully sequestered inside of me burst out in tears and gasping for breath and a total lack of composure. I found a patch of authenticity to rest the remainder of my collegiate career upon after that point. But even in that space, I was still me. Still ravenous for success, for mobility, and I didn’t have to alter these behaviors during my senior year.
And I know, before I continue any further, that these are privileged grievances. While I bemoan selecting a job that’s the right “fit”, there are people my age living lives I cannot fathom. I don’t know survival for food or shelter means or access to education or teen parenthood. Some of us are born into resources. Education, white collar employment, these things are expectations. So, I began applying for jobs in November of my senior year. I flew to cities for interviews, conversed with supervisors on the phone, but whether I turned down the position or they went with someone else, I sat at my graduation jobless. In less than thirty days, I have applied for forty jobs. My apartment lease expires at the end of next month. I have to leave my part time job by August because I am no longer a student. Life feels netless. I’m waiting for some gut instinct or sign, but everything (except my head) is silent. I feel like this is the part where intuition is supposed to kick in. Like I said, they don’t prepare you for this part of graduation.
Some weeks were so gloomy it was painful to survive them– this might be my greatest achievement thus far. They might happen again. During those weeks, I rarely left my bed. Rattled by anxiety, there was no motivation to settle my frenzied insides. I didn’t (and to a certain extent still don’t) know what a day feels like without a million obligations to juggle and a bag bursting at the seams with changes of clothes and snacks. I refuse to shame myself for feeling depressed and anxious. But I was also too proud for those weeks to call my incredible support system for help. I felt like I couldn’t claim these part of me, couldn’t verbalize a feeling of personal failure without letting people down. Pride is a carnivorous spirit, one that corners me with a salivating mouth. Eventually, I decided no longer be it’s prey, to divest in a life of perfection. When I finally did reach out to my friends, it felt like silencing a menacing alarm in my head. I don’t mean to articulate this in post-language. This might happen again, and if it does, I hope I summon the grace to ask for help and know that I’m not alone.
Panting from this dead sprint, I realize it hasn’t gotten me anywhere. I found no answers, only distractions. Worse yet for a type-A personality , there are no answers or secret formulas to life. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “There are no rules to this thing”. We are cartographers mapping this journey ourselves. God entrusts us with a pen and the gift to fail spectacularly. I tell myself, “a job is not the answer”, even though it feels like it is. I have to remind myself that how I make a living will not be how I make my life. This doesn’t make post-grad life any easier. It doesn’t assuage the anxiety I wrestle with. But, I hope, establishing these thoughts now will aid me through my professional career. I sacrificed watching the Oscars with friends, going out for ice cream on a Tuesday afternoon, or bs-ing for a single night because I was too consumed with my jobs and activities to give the tiniest sliver of me to my friends and family. I regret that so much. You can’t think of your career college and beyond) as a reciprocal relationship.
The thing they can’t tell you about post-grad life is that it’s messy and unstable. Maybe they’ve been telling me this all along, and it just didn’t register until now. Nothing is guaranteed anymore. I feel like I’ve been wired for this track that someone forgot to finish. Like, it’s all a neat path, and then, all of a sudden, I’m in the jungle and all they handed me a butter knife and a really cool hat to fend for myself. In reality, I reached the end of the track made for me, and God has handed me some construction tools and said, “it’s up to you now, kid”. I don’t want it to be up to me. I want carrots and goals and all the higher-ed lingo I have to choke down truths my mouth never learned to articulate.
I don’t mean to portray this as all bad. It’s a mixed bag really. It’s nice to remember what food tasted like before I scarfed it down. Sleep isn’t such a stranger after all. It’s scary to ask myself what I want because I might not get it. But that’s what this is now—a giant leap, followed by landing on a pile of rocks and ordering a pizza while giving myself a break, only to leap again. I don’t love it, but I’m learning not to hate it. There’s a grace I’ve found inside myself that I am still learning to honor.
- I’ve compared myself to my peers, not as competition, but as puzzles more complete than mine is. What I fail to recognize is that I am a painting. Things are not neatly cut out for me. Instead, it’s always a process of creating, adding, correcting, and sometimes taking a second to enjoy
- I understood myself as a conjunction. I functioned as glue linking independent entities together. There’s a certain self-sacrifice to this. Involvement is great. Activities foster community, a routine, stability, strong resumes, but they aren’t a substitute for self. I guess that’s the positive of graduating without a full time job. I’ve learned I’m not a conjunction, glue, defined by an activity or a metaphor at all.
- If there is any indicator that I did this college thing right, it isn’t in finding the job. It is my world-class support system. The friendships and mentorships I belong to have really held me together. I don’t know how I’m going to make a living. There is a chance I will know the scarcity of a pack check to paycheck life. But I would gladly take this over knowing emotional scarcity. No matter how hard it is to admit that I’m not ok, I know my vulnerability will be met with kindness and a receptive ear.
It’s ironic that a life phase ushered in by the grandeur of caps and gowns is so anti-climactic. Post-grad is learning to navigate life on uneven terrain. It’s sloppy half the time. Okay, a solid 80% of the time. It’s answerless and scary, and there is a real fear I don’t have what it takes to be the person I thought I should be. I am petrified. Life reveals a lot of jagged-toothed truths after graduation. I’m not going to romanticize what everything feels like right now. I’m going to try to keep myself authentic and raw through all of this, resist the urge to hide behind a veneer. And as things fall (I hope into place), I’m going to trust myself on whatever path I blaze.