“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” – Gabriel García Márquez
In about two months, I will have been graduated from college for a full year. Really, a year is not a terribly long amount of time. So why does this feel so monumental?
For me, graduation was but a momentary emotional catharsis that lasted long enough for me to feel somewhat relieved until my panic set in. Of course, I worried about the things most graduates do, like finances and the job market and whether or not it was a good idea to get two Liberal Arts degrees in this economy. However, the majority of my distress came from not knowing what my next step was or, really, who I was outside of being a student.
For seventeen years, my identity was wrapped up in being a student. Throughout junior high and high school, I was an honors/AP kid—I spent every waking hour at school or at home doing school work. When I graduated high school, I dove headfirst in college because I knew it was what I was supposed to do, and I believe it’s what I wanted to do too. Throughout undergrad, I felt like the natural next step for me was graduate school. Yet, as I was reviewing universities and degree programs, I came to the realization that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do outside of going to school.
I weighed my options. I could see myself doing a variety of things, and yet, I felt no pull towards any particular direction. This isn’t to say that I was lacking in passion or motivation, but that, when it came down to it, I was so unsure of what was the right path to take. Pursuing one direction would mean sacrificing another, and I wasn’t ready to do that, even after four whole years of undergrad. So, feeling like a failure, I decided to put off graduate school indefinitely and set a goal to “find myself” first. Sounds simple, right?
The unfortunate truth is that finding yourself is nowhere near easy. Identity itself is complicated. We all have a general sense of who we are, but how much do we really know about ourselves outside of a certain context? Where does identity begin and end? Can you really just leave one identity and enter another?
The answer to the latter question, I think, is no. But maybe the problem here is that we are expected to do just that. Maybe the reason that me and many, many others feel so lost after graduation is that we’re expected to walk off the stage and into our new selves. There’s so much pressure on millennials to be self-assured and immediately successful as soon as they grab that faux diploma. Yet, that pressure won’t facilitate any meaningful growth.
This pressure can make us lose sight of who we are and what we truly want. School is all consuming, and once it’s over, it really does feel as if we are left with no real identity and maybe, if you are like me, no plan for the future. However, a year into this madness, I feel as if that’s more of a blessing than a curse.
Discovering who you are and what you want isn’t a glowy, carefree experience—it’s grueling. There’s so much you have to learn through trial and error, through making decisions that turn out to be mistakes and by making mistakes that turn out to be great decisions. It’s not a particularly fast process, either, but it is rewarding. Since graduation, I’ve moved into my own apartment, started a new job as an automotive copywriter, adopted a second dog and discovered a multitude of interests and disinterests. All of these things, as mundane as they can sometimes be, have contributed to me developing a better sense of self.
So whether you are newly graduated, or it’s just over the horizon, and you are feeling lost and frustrated, know that you aren’t alone. It’s perfectly normal to feel off kilter for a while. However, you now have so much time—so, so, so much time—to figure it all out.
- Leslie Standridge, A Year in Review: Navigating Oneself After Graduation - February 23, 2017
- Leslie Standridge: An Interview with Tanaya Winder - July 9, 2016
- Leslie Standridge: Looking Back and Looking Forward (An AWP 16 Tale) - April 21, 2016
14 thoughts on “Leslie Standridge, A Year in Review: Navigating Oneself After Graduation”
Thank you so much for sharing this Leslie!
As someone who only has one more semester of my undergrad left, this is so relatable! There are so many expectations on us to know exactly what we want to do after graduating, but I think experiences like yours are more common. Students can get so caught up in school that they feel a bit lost when it’s over, but we need to keep in mind that there will always be time to figure things out.
Thank you for sharing. Your blog is comforting. Many doubts have passed through my mind. I feel that I should have had clear goals by now but I do not. It’s nice to know that there is still more to discover about ourselves after graduation. Wishing you the best.
Similar to the above, I imagine the majority of students haven’t done the type of identity excavation that people are better off doing before jumping into a career. I appreciate you sharing!!
Although I’m not graduating for another year, your blog resonated deeply in me. When I found out I was able to graduate a year early, I was both happy and fearful. I wasn’t ready for the steps that followed my undergrad but I’m slowly getting there. I think that the transition from being a student to a worker is far more daunting than people make it seem. It’s comforting to see others dealing with the same fears and succeeding.
Wow Leslie, this was so helpful to my spirit. Mundane though it may be (at least, to me) it gives me so much hope to see you landed a copywriting job! Throughout my college life I’ve been stressed about even bagging something like that.
It’s nice to hear from someone who has been through all this before. I am worried about what I will do after my undergrad, about when things become a lot more self-determined and the options available to me are both numerous and hard to reach. I have a little bit longer to go, but I am focused on self-discovery above all else. Hopefully this will help!
To echo the sentiments above, I appreciate hearing about the journey of self-discovery. I must often remind myself that it doesn’t happen in a day. There is no big, extravagant moment when it all becomes clear. It is a journey.
These types of concerns have definitely ran through my mind at one time or another. It’s nice to know it is not an uncommon feeling. This post has given me some comfort toward my attitude regarding “post-graduation” life. Thank you!
Thank you for your story. I started college later in life, which is not the norm, however I feel the same feelings, thoughts like everyone else wondering about one career path or choosing another.
Thanks so much for sharing this! I’m about halfway through my undergrad, and I find this so comforting. I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling this way.
Thank you for sharing. This is the kind of encouragement I need being so close to graduation. As students we live our lives one semester at a time, so involved with what we’re learning, that it’s hard to pull back and see the big picture. I’m scared to not know what I’ll be doing after I graduate, but I’m excited to get there.
What a great post, thank you. There are so many things I want to do after graduation, but I don’t know what the right thing to do is, it’s comforting to know that others share these feelings.
Thanks so much for cutting through the nonsense that shrouds a diploma. I’m really looking forward to getting my degree in three semesters, but I’m also extremely stressed about finding my place in the world! I recently realized that if I could go to school forever, as a profession, that I absolutely would. Being a student is a joy to me, but I know I’ll eventually have to figure something else out. It’s nice to see this post and all the comments! We’re in this together, everyone.
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