From Our Readers
September 01, 2015 8:44 am

I like to plan. Actually, I love to plan. I have a notebook-sized planner I bring with me everywhere and most of my days include two or three separate to do lists. It seems excessive to some, but devoting that much targeted energy to planning helps me both accomplish more in my days and spend less time riddled with anxiety. When the end of college came around, it was basically the planning Olympics. I knew the stories, read the think pieces, and saw the reality firsthand among my friends. More and more college graduates in my generation can’t find jobs and must move back home with their parents. I was terrified of finding myself in that situation. I needed to graduate college with a plan.

I felt especially anxious about this because I’d heard since high school that the job market was terrible and since freshman orientation that my major was useless (what does one exactly do with a major in “Community Mental Health”?), so I already felt like the odds were stacked against me. I was going to have to work really hard to make sure college didn’t end with me clueless and jobless. And I did. The summer before I started my senior year I compiled an extensive list of options for myself after graduation—the Peace Corps, a Fulbright fellowship, and various other research and service grants. I thought these were the perfect option for me as they helped me avoid the “real” job market, while still offering financial independence so that I wouldn’t have to live at home.

Of course these types of fellowships and programs are extremely competitive. I knew that. But I also went a school with the highest number of Fulbright recipients and was assured by countless confident advisors that I would get at least one of these awards. I applied in total for six different postgraduate fellowships or awards. I worked hard to create seemingly flawless applications, which only furthered my academic advisors assuredness that I would receive one if not many of these prestigious awards. I got hyper focused on planning my life after college in the event I got one of these awards. I became obsessed with perfecting applications and while still anxious, I grew confident something would work out.

It didn’t. By mid March, I had heard “no”s from everyone. I panicked. I cried. I felt righteously angry for being deprived these things I worked so hard for. And worse, I felt hopeless—what do I do now that all my plans have fallen through? Even though I knew it wasn’t true, I felt I had wasted the past eight months. My planning had failed me and I felt totally screwed.

I started frantically applying for jobs in my hometown, thinking things wouldn’t be so bad if I was living at home and at least doing a job I kind of liked. I applied and applied, but come graduation, I still had no plans and had to answer the dreaded “What are you doing after college?” question with “I DON’T KNOW! PLEASE STOP ASKING ME BEFORE I START CRYING AGAIN!”

However, as I kept applying and trying to figure out my life after college, I had to ask myself questions I hadn’t before, like what do I actually want to do now? Before, I was just focusing on what seemed like the most secure option, but not actually the best one. I realized that this actually happens frequently for me. I plan so much I often overlook whether I actually like the plan very much, instead just taking comfort in having some sense of control.

So it was in this lack of control and seemingly total chaos and failure that my perspective started to shift. I had become so focused on those fellowships and awards that my vision completely narrowed. I basically forgot there were other options. I didn’t realize that, while maybe not immediately, I could find a job in my field. The “real” job market wasn’t as bad as I had made it out to be. I also realized I didn’t have to just look for jobs near where I lived—I could live anywhere I wanted to! And I finally got it through my head that living at home is in no way the worst thing in the world.

In opening my mind to all these options, I also stopped thinking everything had to happen right now. I was convinced that if I didn’t get a Fulbright or a Peace Corps placement my first year out of college, I could never do either of those things, which in retrospect, is very silly. I talked to a Peace Corps recruiter who told me she knew of 65 year olds who joined the Peace Corps, and my advisors told me about their peers who did Fulbrights as graduate students. I had become foolishly obsessed with doing these things as my immediate post college plans that I convinced myself there was some time limit on them, when in reality, I have almost my whole life to travel and do such work abroad.

It’s been three months since graduation and I actually have two jobs I really enjoy. I am living at home, and so far it’s been a positive experience. I still think back to how nice it might have been for all my post college plans to magically work out. But more than I think that, I think about how grateful I am for the lesson I learned by the exact opposite happening. I now know that planning is a great tool, but only if you don’t let it rule your life. You have to keep an open mind and an open perspective to avoid feeling the panic and desperation I did back in March. I love my two jobs, and I never would have thought having them was even an option for me 6 months ago. Sure the uncertainty of this time in my life still makes me anxious on occasion, but I feel like a whole new world of options is open to me now that I’m excited to keep exploring.

Jennifer Renick is passionate about mental health and healing.  She spends her professional time working with at risk youth through community organizations, and her personal time doting on her dog.  You can find her on her website, www.generationhopeful.orgl, or on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/GenerationHopeful.

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