If you’re a recent college graduate, or if you’re like me, and you’re a year out of college and still referring to yourself as a “recent college graduate” to preserve your ego and attempt to shield yourself from the real adult world, let me share with you some words of wisdom that I’m sure you’ve NEVER HEARD EVER BEFORE: graduating from college is kind of the worst. It’s hard. It’s depressing. It’s painful. And worst of all for creative spirits like myself, the abrupt lack of stimulation and passion—the kind that would wholly envelope your every cell and electrocute your every thought each time you entered a classroom—can leave you utterly, hopelessly, devastatingly, suddenly uninspired.
But I’m not trying to scare you. I spent an entire year living at home, working a pay-the-bills restaurant job, sitting in my underwear, watching Netflix, browsing the (Internet version of the) classifieds, and feeling sorry for myself because I was stuck. “I never thought this would be me,” I’d groan to myself as I wallowed in self-pity. “I should be doing something by now,” I’d think, as I sat on my bed and continued to do nothing.
To my (retrospective) horror, this trend continued for months. The further I got from my beloved identity as a college student, the more I craved the creative spark that used to drive me. But as that part of my life drug behind me like a sad, deflated balloon I couldn’t bring myself to throw away, the less motivated I was to pursue any of the big dreams I was once unabashedly sure I’d easily achieve. And though out of the ashes do many superheroes rise, this vicious cycle unfortunately did nothing but drag me down deeper into the spiral of shame and disappointment I’d gotten myself caught in. I didn’t recognize the person I was anymore. I wasn’t working toward anything anymore, I wasn’t passionate about anything anymore, I wasn’t particularly interested in anything with my usual over-eager ultra-obsessive fervor anymore. To put it dramatically, but realistically: I wasn’t living for anything anymore.
That all suddenly changed on one particular day, in one particular moment. As inspiration tends to do to the lost and/or wandering, I found myself absolutely struck as I stood in front of a display rack at a local boutique jewelry store. Before me, like an overly-obvious metaphor in a kinda crappy coming-of-age movie, were dozens of keys. Keys on necklaces that bore many words, all of which lunged out at me: “Courage,” “Create,” “Inspire,” “Believe,” “Fearless,” “Strength.” All of the words that stood for all of the things I had been longing to muster up inside myself for the past 12 months were suddenly in front of my face, telling me I could be those things again, reminding me I could feel those feelings again, and assuring me that in spite of the sticks and stones I had allowed to break my bones, words were there to cure me. I needed to know more.
I immediately rushed home to do some fierce research on The Giving Keys, and found that the organization not only made lovely, inspiring jewelry, but stood for something much larger. The gist is this: 1) you purchase a key that bears a word you relate to, or are trying to work on within yourself, 2) as you wear that key, you make a decided effort to emulate and embody your word, until 3) your key has served its purpose, and you one day give it away to someone who needs to wear your word as a reminder for herself. And the second I saw that beacon of a “Customize” box, I knew exactly what I needed to do for myself. I needed to be empowered.
The second that beautiful key marked “Empower” arrived on my doorstep, things started to turn around. It might sound crazy, but carrying around a physical reminder to build myself up actually helped me to do it. I felt like myself again. I felt myself returning to the girl whose over-confidence was often unearned but always noticeable. My key made me accountable, not just because it was on display around my neck for the world to see, but because I knew making myself strong again had to work from the outside in.
In other words, it wasn’t until I took a step back from the bubble of my own post-collegiate misery that I realized how much I missed being a friend, a sister, a listener, and an empower-er of others. And, like magic that was delivered to me on a tiny silver chain, once I started empowering, I myself felt more empowered than I had in months.
I wear my key as a symbol, as a beacon, as a talisman, but mostly as a reminder that I am not, nor was I ever, alone. I went through a lot during my first year after college, and I fumbled through and felt it all myself not because I didn’t have anyone to help me through it, but because I closed myself off. I became too involved with my own journey to think to connect with those around me about theirs.
To get back to the interested, passionate, adventurous woman I once was— a woman I loved being— I needed to focus not on myself, but on my relationship to the world around me and everyone in it. I’ll continue to wear this key with the intention of one day giving it away to someone who needs it more than I do. And every day I put it on, I rock it as an undeniable reminder that we’re all in this together, that what goes around will indeed come around, and that if I want to continue to feel empowered, I’ve gotta start by spreading some empowerment myself.
(Images via author and Giving Keys)