You’ve done it! You graduated college, walked across the stage, and received your diploma. You’re done with homework, lab practicals, papers, late nights studying fueled by coffee and cereal. You’re on your own in the “real world” now, looking for jobs, a place to live, and someone to share it with. Or maybe you graduated from college years ago, but you’ve quit or lost a job, moved, or started living somewhere new. That should be good news, right?
If you’re anything like me, you suddenly feel confused, lost, and under pressure. What will you do next? everyone asks. Do you have a job yet? What will you use your degree for? When will you get married?
I know that everyone is just curious and excited; they don’t mean to be adding pressure. But hear any of these questions for the thousandth time and its easy to feel terrified inside as you put on a smile, again.
Here are a few things to think about as you find yourself in between chapters in your life.
1. You are not alone.
The most important thing to remember is this: these feelings are normal. Even if no one around you is admitting it, most people feel lost and lonely after finishing college, and all adults feel lost at some point in their lives. Sure, one friend just posted engagement photos on Facebook, another is sharing their cool “office” or apartment on Instagram. Keep in mind that social media makes it easy for us to curate what our lives look like to the rest of the world and that everyone has challenges we cannot see.
2. Take one day at a time.
Keep applying to as many jobs as you can and put yourself out there. Accept interviews, travel to new places, and explore in the meantime. It will take work, but I’ve found that things sometimes work themselves out in ways you’d never have imagined. Try taking one day at a time—there’s no need to have a 5 year plan right now.
3. Find something that makes you happy.
Learn a new hobby! Pick up a craft, start a new book, get outside, join a club. No matter how small it is, find something that makes you excited and get started. Use your free time to learn and explore, and you might learn something new about yourself along the way.
4. Start a conversation.
In the past few years, I’ve reached out to plenty of college and high school friends that I haven’t heard from in ages. More often than not, they’re excited to hear from me! Write a snail-mail letter, text your best friend, or draft an email to a classmate. Most importantly—be honest and genuine. It’s okay to be going through a tough time and it’s even more okay to admit it to yourself and others. It’s likely they’re going through something extremely similar, and the kindness and advice you’ll receive in exchange for your honesty may surprise you.
5. Be grateful.
Are you living at home or with a friend in this transition? Are your parents supportive? Do you have even one person you can turn to when you’re feeling low? Be grateful for any amount of support you are receiving and show appreciation to the people in your life who love you. Don’t feel guilty for needing help; we all need help and support at different points in our lives.
My parents are always excited to have me at home in my transitions and I feel extremely lucky for all of their support and love when I’m feeling lost. Being home has its own challenges because it’s never quite the same as when you first left, but it’s still home. I give my dog extra snuggles and enjoy being in a space that puts me at ease.
6. Reflect on your emotions.
You are going through a period of growth that you can learn from. So pick up a journal, notebook, or piece of scrap paper and start writing down what’s in your head. You don’t have to be Shakespeare—just get a pen to paper and let your heart spill out onto the pages. Writing has been the best way for me to learn about myself using my emotions as a guide.
So maybe you’re feeling lonely, scared, lost, confused, anxious, or a combination of all these emotions. Every time I have moved or accepted a new job since graduating from Gustavus (this fall will mark my 5th transition since finishing school), I have felt all of these emotions. But the discomfort that comes with these periods of change means that we are growing and learning. Know that if you are struggling, it’s only going to make you stronger for the future and more of the inevitable periods of change that will come. You are not alone.
Every day, month, and year is uncharted territory into new experiences and new adventures that, if you’re lucky, will continue to put you outside of your comfort zone and make you uncomfortable in more ways than one. It’s the only way to keep growing.