Let’s have an honest chat about life after graduation, shall we? My post grad depression was the cherry on top during my quarter life crisis, but I’m here to validate everything you’ve been feeling because I’ve felt the same way!
Denial – So during the rough patch, I didn’t want to Google diagnose myself and say that I was depressed, but I started sleeping 12 hours a day (which was awesome btw) but now I know something was up. And I am an early riser so this meant that I was going to bed at like 7pm! Which also meant that I wasn’t socializing as much, so I didn’t had to talk about what was going on in my life or how I’ve been feeling lately because I didn’t see many people. Also, you don’t have to confront yourself or your feelings when you are asleep, so what seemed to be my new favorite thing, was actually me running away from admitting that I’ve been depressed. Only after I did some readings and talked to people I saw that what I’ve been going through has a name and that it is something that a lot of people struggle with but don’t even know what’s actually wrong.
Disappointment – We are starting off from a dark place here now but disappointment is the most dominant feeling. We expect to feel happy and ready to take on life after graduation, but we end up feeling low, hopeless, and disappointed. And I suppose we may have a more intense feeling of disappointment especially if you went to the top schools, it’s a bummer when you see that it’s not enough. After graduating you apply to the top companies you’d like to work with, because they’ll be dying to work with you, right, why wouldn’t they? You got the best education possible in this field and you are hardworking and a straight A student, what else are they looking for? Well it sucks but it seems they almost always look for more.
Also, I graduated into the end of the world but still it wasn’t clear to me whether I should blame covid or myself for all the doors that closed on my face. My experience of the whole thing was that I was a successful person, and then I wasn’t anymore.
The definition of success doesn’t stay the same – When you’re in school, success is submitting your paper on time. It’s the good feedback you receive for your homework. It’s hearing your professor say “good question!” when you ask something in class. Easy. It’s just easy to get positive feedback or any kind of feedback when you are in school, you are given a lot of material to work with and it’s the professors job to tell you what you did good and what you need to work more on. Once you are outside the school environment, what we define as successful has to change.
It’s no longer getting an A on your paper. What we call an achievement tends to be harder to get and it takes longer. Say it’s landing a nice job; hopefully you won’t have to get another job anytime soon. Projects tend to extend to longer periods of time in the professional life and it’s usually not as structured as having the midterms in the middle and the finals at the end of the semester. That’s why we need to redefine our understanding of success if we don’t want to feel like we are achieving nothing. We are, but it’s not measured the same way it is at school.
Also, my definition of success probably won’t be the same as yours, and I’m sure it will keep evolving and my definition won’t stay the same either. These days, my definition of success is being proud of the work I put out, like if someone wants to read some of my short stories, I wanna be like “yes sure I’ll send it over!” instead of feeling embarrassed.
Rewiring your sense of self-worth – I realized during these dark times that my sense of self-worth was directly connected to my achievements and successes. I realized that I felt valuable when I’m praised for the work I do and I that I didn’t like myself as much when I don’t achieve something noteworthy. I had to detach my self-worth from the grading system or the school’s feedback culture. And I kept getting rejections which wasn’t helping either! But this is completely stupid because I’d never think a friend is less valuable if this was the case with them. So why do I feel this way about myself? It’s sometimes important to think how you’d react to your situation if you were your friend, because most of the times we are way harder on ourselves that we would be on others.
What now? – I think we struggle after graduating also because we’ve been told what’s gonna happen next until then. If you’re at second grade you know that next year you’ll be third, but life after school is full of uncertainties and having a million directions you can go when you have to choose one is a huge responsibility that we can’t share with anyone. It’s all on you, all up to you. But why does it have to be a bad thing? It’s usually awesome to have options.
It just puts a bigger pressure on our next step bc it’s a big step. But it’s wishful thinking that we hope our first job after graduating will be the perfect first step to our amazing career, but it’s usually not the case. Even if you land on your dream job right after graduation, you still feel weird about it. You knew what you wanted and worked really hard for it and now you got it, what now? Is this it for the next 30 years of your life? Is that all there is?
So if plenty of us are feeling this way after graduation, why don’t we see the next few years following graduation as a training period where it’s expected of us to explore our passions and try out different paths and honestly just experiment and see what sticks? Why don’t we connect and share more with our friends instead of drifting away because it’s a lousy transition period for all of us?
Besides, I had so much stuff to do at school, like submitting papers, pages and pages of readings, essays, projects, presentations, that I didn’t even have a chance to think about what I want to do afterwards. I of course had an idea, but I knew nothing about what it actually was like to be doing this job because I didn’t have time to do anything but school work. I couldn’t wait the school to be over so that I could do the stuff that I wanted to do, and not what my professor asked me to do.
Graduating into a pandemic – When I graduated from my bachelor’s in 2018, the worst change in my life was that I wasn’t with my best friends all the time anymore, we weren’t studying together, having all the lunches or coffee breaks together, staying at each other’s places every other day, because everyone goes their own way once the student life ends and it sucks not having this communal lifestyle anymore.
Graduating from my master’s in 2021 was a little different. All of my classes during my last semester were online, so school meant being on Zoom for several hours everyday, and graduating just meant that I didn’t have to be on Zoom for several hours everyday. That was my closure. Or the closure I didn’t have. No graduation ceremony, no last day vibes, no hugs, no goodbyes. The shift from student life to professional life was so sudden and weird and I had trouble comprehending what actually happened to me! I didn’t feel anything when I received my diploma on the mail. Plus, this whole thing made job search way harder than it already is because most companies were downsizing, but us new grads like to think that everything is probably fine and it’s just us that’s not fine.
Some advice on navigating job search – If you don’t immediately land on your dream job, I was advised to get a job adjacent to what I really wanted to be doing, just to start somewhere.
What I did was to aggressively reach out to people. I reached out to people I hardly knew, people that my connections hardly knew, I reached out to a lot of people I found on social media that looked like they did what I wanted to do for a living, and just talked to them. Asked them what their day looks like, what skills does one need, what should I know or learn or enjoy to be successful in this field.
And learning about the experts’ work may be as valuable as sharing your rookie work. For me this meant sharing my writings on my blog or volunteering. When you connect with more people through your work and see that some people see value in your work, then you see it too. Maybe it’s not the best way, because why do I depend on the approval of others, but that’s honestly what worked for me: putting myself out there and allowing others to see value in my work when I saw nothing in myself.
It feels awful when you are not where you thought you would be. But success isn’t linear, and we are of course gonna have ups and downs, and it is more than okay to feel sad. Besides, having gone through low times make you appreciate the good times more. Just remember that this lousy feeling doesn’t define you and it will pass. Transition is hard but change is good.