Unexpected things you learn in your first year post-grad

Everyone says that the first year after graduating from college is the hardest. It’s been six whole months after accepting my diploma, and I’m going to be super honest: it’s hard out there.

The first semester being out of college has felt like I’ve been kicked out of a club. I didn’t plan for that. No reading to get done over the summer, no homework to do in the fall, no finals and rush of relief when they’re done. No big goal you’re working toward in a concrete, step-by-step way. And no built-in community anymore, either. You’re adrift.

But suddenly, whether you like it or not, you’re part of a new club. The What the Hell Do We Want? Club. And everyonein their twenties is at least a partial member. We’re not aiming for that first degree anymore —instead, we have to figure out what we actually want to pursue next. It’s anxiety-provoking and a little depressing, but some of the best conversations I’ve had about life have happened in the past 6 months. This period of uncertainty demands you to question things, and forces you to find a drive somewhere inside. It’s scary, but you’re not alone, and now you’re at least thinking about what might fulfill you, in a real-time kind of way.

Before graduating, I’d always had the very naive assumption that the people who stalled out after graduation just hadn’t prepared enough. I thought I knew how to become a “success.” If I just added determination with my degree, I could attain an ideal life —I’d get the amazing first job and move out right away. It was all about going through the appropriate steps: apply apply apply, interview well, get the job, get the apartment, attain eternal happiness. In my head, if I followed this plan, there was no way I would fail.

Low and behold, the first part magically worked: I was offered an editorial assistant position the day after my graduation. YES! I thought. I did this right! I was excited to start my “adult” life and move out of my parents’ house. But a week into my new job, I found myself crying in the bathroom during lunch. My work environment was hostile, and the commute was so long and frustrating, I couldn’t pursue my writing goals in the evening. I would come home, pass out, get up at 5:45am and start all over again.

As I crashed, my ideas about “succeeding” crashed down with me. Suddenly, I realized that what I had thought mattered to me was completely wrong. The plan, my perfect post-grad equation, had proved only one thing: I actually had no idea what I wanted to do after college. That feeling of uncertainty has defined these past six months.

So I quit my first job and settled into living with my family. I worked part-time, then full-time, and now I’m back to part-time again. I want to apply to grad school, then I don’t, then I do. I want to pick up and move somewhere new, then I want to hide under the covers just thinking about going anywhere. Every time I make a decision, I go back on it a few weeks later. I’m waiting for something to tip the scale, to point me in a direction. And until it does, I’m staying put. I’m lucky enough to have that option.

All of my post-grad friends confirmed that transitioning out of college is stressful and confusing. No matter what. You can go straight into grad school, but that will be different from your undergrad. You can get a job right away, even the perfect job, and it’s still going to be a shock. If you move, that’s a big deal, and if you move home, that’s a big deal too. There isn’t a formula for the first 6 months of post-grad being an easy breezy time.

But you will get there. “There” doesn’t necessarily mean “happy and satisfied with your life,” but it might mean being more comfortable with the life that you’re currently living. Just now, at the end of these 6 months, I’m beginning to take risks and set down some goals. But I’m hesitant to make bigger plans and pin all my dreams on one idea for my life. I’m trying to leave room for error and change. I’ve embraced the uncertainty more, and that’s a relief.

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