From Our Readers
October 17, 2014 12:00 pm

There is a very famous scene in a very funny movie called Talladega Nights where the main character, Ricky (played by my favorite actor Will Ferrell), is being interviewed and he just doesn’t know what to do with his hands. While all of us may laugh at how silly Will is being again, a few of us also recognize a familiar, but nevertheless traumatic, occurrence. It is what happens when you go for a coffee interview, your really cool co-worker starts asking you about your weekend plans, or the police officer who just pulled you over is making small talk: you forget what you usually do with your hands.

Recently, I moved back home with my parents, bachelor’s degree in tow, and have again encountered the familiar uncertainty that comes with not knowing what to do with my hands. The difference, though, is that instead of not knowing what do to with my hands, I have no idea what to do with myself. The process of moving back home follows the same pattern of behavior that nervous hand uncertainty does, which leads me to believe that moving back home after college is the emotional equivalent of not knowing what to do with your hands.

Allow me to break this down for you:

1. First, you get really excited at the prospect of something new happening. Your heart starts beating really fast, you feel like you are preparing yourself for a marathon or the Hunger Games, and you really just want to shout at everyone how you feel (even though you know you shouldn’t). This nervous excitement got me through me first month being back home, I sat on the couch a lot, read some good books, and reconnected with old friends. This is similar to how the adrenaline of walking into an interview gets you through the first hand shake: you know it is coming and it is the first thing you should do, so you are set for at least the first five minutes.

2. Second, you freeze. This is the pivotal “what the hell should I be doing” moment. For Ricky Bobby, this is where he said quite bluntly “I’m not sure what to do with my hands,” and for many of us, this is when panic sets in and we become very aware of the stationary position of our hands. After a relaxing summer back home, the reality set in that I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, with my afternoon, with anything. So, in an emotional sense, I froze. I also cried a lot and started to listen to very depressing music about how pointless everything is. Nevertheless, action had to take place, and so the next phase of hand uncertainty set in…

3. Third, you start doing too much. Some people naturally talk with their hands, some people do not, but when you don’t know what you are supposed to do with your hands there is an inevitable moment where you do too much. My most awkward example of this is when a new friend of mine was telling me about a death in her family, and I reached a hand up towards her shoulder in an attempt to console her. Instead, I stopped my hand in mid air, re-thinking the action, and held it there for much longer than normal before proceeding to reach it behind her back, go in for a half hug, get into an almost full hug, and then finally patting her on the shoulder. This same awkward complexity of comfort happened after my big life crises freeze; I started a new exercise routine, I got a job at a restaurant, and I started studying for the LSATs (because obviously I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer, I just didn’t know it until right now). All of this action felt wrong, but it felt like the only thing I could do, until I finally became overwhelmed.

4. Fourth, you do too little. The overwhelming nature of over-action could lead to a nice resolution of balance and a structured schedule, but for me it leads to an even more awkward period of inaction. Much like the compensation for doing too much with your hands by doing absolutely nothing, I fell into a kind of limbo after I started doing too much. When I was required to be somewhere, I would spend a lot of time staring out windows and binge watching Netflix. I was emotionally forcing myself into inaction even though somewhere deep down I knew that it was more damaging than over-acting (even though I did finish four TV series that gave me some new perspectives on fantasy football and being famous). After a considerable amount of time, I came to my senses and decided that I had to do something.

5. Finally, you figure it out. Just kidding, you never really figure it out, just as you are never really sure what you are supposed to do with your hands. Instead, you start becoming more comfortable in your own skin, as you inevitably do in any daunting situation, and things come a little more naturally. I started a daily routine, which includes brushing my teeth, Netflix, work, studying for the LSAT, going for a walk, and brushing my teeth again. I am also writing more and exploring new hobbies (hiking is actually awesome, if you didn’t already know).

I may never know what I am supposed to do with my hands, or my life, but I am starting to figure out the things that make me happy and comfortable. Maybe this experience will make the next moment of uncertainty, like Law School, more bearable. I doubt it though.

Michelle Nussbaum is a recent college graduate who wonders when she needs to drop “recent” from that description. She currently resides in Maryland where she works nights and weekends as a host at a popular restaurant. Michelle hopes to head off to Law School in the next year or so to follow her dream of becoming a thirty something with a stable job. You can follow her on Twitter: @michelle_tatum_, but she doesn’t really know how to use it, so sorry in advance. 

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