I am sitting there in my cap & gown listening to Anders Holm give our graduation speech. (Which was truly amazing and hilarious by the way). I think to myself, “I finally made it! I am finally done with school and have my degrees.” As I am sitting there reveling in all of my achievements, all of sudden it hits me: What the fuck do I do now?
I was graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Spanish, hours of volunteer experience, and no job. I had held a job ever since I was 14 years old: from hosting, serving, sales, clerking, and administrative work. My last job was a work-study job in administration and the day I graduated was the day I lost that job. It felt like a death sentence.
All of sudden everything I knew for the last four years was coming to an end. All of the friends I had were suddenly going their separate ways. I no longer had the structure of classes, work, and volunteering that was so ingrained in me. And to top it all off, in three months I would no longer have a place to live; my lease would be up.
What the hell was I to do? I was in the midst of my quarter life crisis and I was only 21 years old! I muddled through this crisis the best that I could. I am now 25 years old and this is what I’ve learned (so far):
1. I am SO glad I actually spent time volunteering, interning, & working while in school.
While in my undergrad, I studied abroad in order to better my Spanish. I spent another summer abroad completing an internship in the psychology field while also utilizing my Spanish. And I spent two years volunteering in a hospital to gain as much clinical experience as possible. All of that time (unpaid time, mind you) spent gaining experience really paid off. A degree is great and all, but there is something to be said for getting your feet wet and gaining real life experience. Might as well do it while you are in school rather than have to struggle later on when you should be honing your skills and making money.
2. Networking is a real thing
Part of my volunteering and work allowed me to meet contacts that helped guide me into my career path today. Some helped me get a foot in the door to certain institutions and some turned into amazing mentors. So when you meet people, be nice, even if they are not; because you never know when you might run into that person again.
3. There is no shame in finding work (outside of your degree) to get by
So I was out of a job when I officially graduated. There were some legitimate positions that I had my sights on in relation to my degrees, however, that turned into a slow-going process. I found myself doing exactly what I had been doing before college in order to support myself: hosting and waitressing. Don’t get me wrong, I love working in the service industry. Somewhere along the way though, I felt like I had failed myself and all the education I had so proudly obtained.
4. There were, and will be, lots of rejections
After graduation, I applied to a variety of positions. I was rejected by all of them. In the psychology field, most positions require at least two years of clinical experience. Granted, I had two years of volunteering in the clinical setting of an inpatient unit, but that was not considered enough for most positions. I had my foot in the door with the unit that I had volunteered with, however, there was nothing I could do but wait until a position opened up there to apply. Thankfully, there was a position open shortly after graduation. I applied. Fortunately, I got the position (definitely due to the hard work I had put in for the two previous years).
I realized however, I may not have gotten that golden position I wanted, and what then? Being rejected doesn’t mean failure, it means that you tried. And as long as you keep trying, there is always a possibility of succeeding. I like to think that all those rejections were practice to help build those skills to get that one acceptance.
5. You will be poor and then some
So you graduated. No job. Probably no savings. No help from the ‘rents anymore. And a boatload of loans. I am a unique case in that I had been more or less supporting myself since mid high school. Therefore, I had gotten a head start in learning on how to manage my money early on. I had to really crack down on my budget in order to become debt free. It hasn’t been the most glamorous of living, but it has paid off. Two and a half years after graduation, I was able to pay off $25,000 in debt! And then I was right back to being poor again (haha).
6. Budgeting overall is your best bud
Trying to live below your means is the best thing you can do. I sought out cheap rent. And I made major efforts to save money on all fronts. I started cooking in more – which to my surprise I loved. I attempted to not blow all of my money at the bars. I also learned that cash is your best friend. Using cash makes spending feel more real and helps us keep better track of our overall spending.
7. It is (unfortunately) better to have roommates than not
How did I find cheap rent in a downtown area? Well, I settled for a crappy not-so-chic apartment that consisted of 3 roommates plus me. Trust me, I did not want to be a post-graduate still living with a bunch of roommates. What I had wanted was a nice high rise apartment that I could walk around in naked because I lived by myself. But by choosing to budget myself in this way, I was able to more actively chip away at my $25,000 in debt and start saving for the many more plans I had for myself.
8. Drinking is a catch 22
College was a blast, drinking my way down State Street in Wisconsin, but somewhere along the way, it wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. Graduating and entering the so-called “real” world came with a change in acceptable drinking behavior. I come from a line of people who have had severe drinking problems. This has made me more aware of my overindulging behavior when it comes to alcohol. As we get older, our bodies don’t handle alcohol as well; and the more we drink, the more a slippery slope it is to turning into an unhealthy behavioral pattern. Drinking can still be a fun social activity, but getting obliterated at the bars every weekend is not – eventually contributing to problems in our mental, emotional, and physical health.
9. (Re) Definition of fun
This brings me to my overall point: binge drinking and raving all night are probably no longer sustainable avenues for fun at this point. There are plenty of other ways than partying to have fun and be social. It takes the effort to try new things to figure out what is your new definition of fun. In particular, I find hiking and photography to fun. I also enjoy game nights with friends, music shows, and rock climbing. There are so many avenues to enjoy ourselves, and they don’t always have to revolve around partying.
10. Busy-ness syndrome is a real thing
I constantly feel like I am not doing enough. I don’t know what I am doing, but it doesn’t feel like it is enough. So I feel like I need to be constantly doing things; achieving things. Instead of allowing myself to feel comfortable in the moment, I keep myself busy. I want to avoid my feelings and worries. Maybe I don’t ignore these thoughts/feelings with drugs and alcohol, but constantly being busy acts as a similar avoidance technique. I have started to realize this and learned the importance to just slow down. Allow me to reflect on life and truly enjoy it; instead of constantly moving on to the next thing.
One place I learned about this so-called “Busy-ness Syndrome” was through Psychology Today. I find a lot of their articles extremely helpful and enlightening. Please take a moment to look at this article for more information in regards to this topic!
11. Depression & anxiety are ugly and REAL
My upbringing was not quite the typical walk in the park. I had managed to push through and really succeed. But it was after graduation that I started to experience anxiety attacks and bouts of depression. Being that my profession is in the mental health field, I utilized the skills I had to better manage how I was feeling. I reached out to my supports, used my active coping skills, and returned to therapy. I had managed quite well until my father passed away two years after graduating. That is a whole convoluted story I won’t get into, but needless to say, all my progress crumbled. I became severely depressed with intrusive suicidal thoughts. I did not want to die. It was at this time that I saw my doctor and started an antidepressant. I continued to use all those other resources I mentioned previously. I began to progress again with my healing.
Managing one’s mental health and overall life is a lifelong process. We all fall at times, but that does not mean we cannot get back up. I continue to work on these things, but have come to learn there is no shame in these lows. I am human.
12. Friends will start to disappear
My friends from home and my friends from college were all now on their own life paths. Many people left the city I was living in, while others were already living in far off places. Then there were the friends whom which we just parted ways. Some people were still in party mode, while others not so much. Starting my “big girl” job, I realized that I couldn’t be living the lifestyle I was living in college. And because of that, I stopped seeing certain people. It was a difficult change to accept. My environment was the same, but the way I spent my time was not.
13. Making new friends is even harder
So now I was down some friends and living this whole new experience. I was stressed all the time and feeling lonelier than ever. How in the hell was I supposed to make new friends now? I realized that I needed to start stepping out of my comfort zone. I mean how do I soberly approach a relative stranger (ie. a co-worker, etc) and say, “hey want to be friends?”. Well, that is kind of what I did. I started reaching out and asking people if they wanted to get together for coffee or other activities in which we shared interests. Sometimes we would hit it off right away and sometimes it would be a flop. But hey, I started to learn how to better socialize without alcohol and started to meet some really interesting peeps.
14. Getting skooled is never over
Maybe sitting in massive lecture halls and all the school events were over, but learning definitely was not. I continued to learn new things every day at my job. I learned new skills when it came to building my social life. And I continued to yearn to learn. Ha, that rhymed. Anywho, learning all of these new things has helped me figure out how I want to progress with my life. I am yet again back in the classroom and developing my career. Learning is a lifelong process whether it is in the classroom or not.
15. Fitness is necessary
I started to learn very quickly that I could not just eat whatever I wanted and not exercise with no consequences. Things started to get soft. I am not fat, but I have always felt physically, mentally, and emotionally better when active. This doesn’t mean you have to slave away on a treadmill every day. I found out that I love biking, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, hiking, and kickboxing. I would much rather do those activities, eat right, and feel better about my personal being. I can give two shits what someone else has to say about my appearance. All that matters is that I feel healthy and happy about myself.
16. Ever hear of sleep hygiene?
I am not always the best about this step, but sleep hygiene is a real thing. We have all heard our parents or older people of the community complain about getting a decent night’s sleep. Well, it is true. I am not old, but with every passing year, I notice that I am more sensitive to disturbances in my sleep. Sleep hygiene is about forming a healthy routine at the end of the night to help one’s body and mind unwind in order to fall asleep more easily. I highly suggest learning about it.
17. Cooking 101
This step was a no-brainer for me. I love cooking. 🙂 Learning how to cook is an essential skill in life. It also makes you one hell of an eligible mate. Nothing is sexier than a partner that knows how to cook you a healthy and delicious meal. Moreso, cooking in is a lot cheaper than going out to eat every night of the week. Boxed mac and cheese can only take you so far. And in the end, this type of quick and easy junk food is not a healthy source of nutrients.
18. Hobbies are important
This step is essential to helping you find the person you are, as well as, to ward off listless living. Listless living leads to depression and anxiety. I believe it is important for us to discover our likes and dislikes. It can help us learn who we are as a person and who we want to be. Moreover, a hobby is just one more skill for us to learn. We should never give up on our creative sides – it keeps our soul alive.
19. Likes & Dislikes
Speaking of likes and dislikes, how can we ever truly be happy if we don’t understand what we like and don’t like in life (outside of just hobbies). There was a time when I was scared to try something or make a move. A friend said to me, “What is the worst that could happen? You try it out and if it doesn’t work out, then at least maybe you learned some things. You probably learned some things you like and definitely things you don’t. In the end, you walk away knowing more about yourself. More that you can apply to the next adventure.” To this day, those words have stuck with me.
20. Some people do not want to see you succeed
My father once told me this when I was young and I didn’t quite understand. I wanted to believe in the good of humanity – that we all wanted to help each other to achieve great things. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Jealousy is a real thing. I hate that it is, but it is. I am not saying to be a pessimist and think that everyone is out to get you; just know that not everyone always has your back.
21. You can’t ask people for something they are not capable of giving you
This was and still is the hardest lesson for me to grasp. We all have needs and wants. Sometimes we expect certain people in our lives to be there to meet those needs or to support us. Unfortunately, some people are not capable of doing that for us. Those in our lives may not understand how to support us or may not have the skills set to do so or may just have their own issues to manage. Regardless of the reasons, they may not be capable of giving you what you need – even if you think they should. Learning to let that expectation go and find that support elsewhere is a whole other lesson.
22. Change is the only constant
Nothing is permanent. No matter how much we want things to stay the same, they never can. Change is uncomfortable. We get used to things one way and then all of sudden life kicks you in the ass and gives you something new to deal with. It is all a part of living and learning. This doesn’t mean that it has to be one trial and tribulation after another; we can learn to enjoy the ride (or at least understand it).
23. It is okay to be alone
A three-year relationship of mine had ended at age 24. And wow did it really suck. I had had a partner since I ventured out into the real world. He was my person. And then bam. Bye Felicia. I was scared shitless. In the end, it turned out to be okay. I am still here and still learning. And one thing I am figuring out is that being on my own doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
24. Unpleasant life events will continue to occur
Another fun lesson I am continuing to learn is that life will continue to throw awful bullshit experiences at you (sarcasm noted). Since graduating, I became severely depressed, had issues with anxiety, lost my father to alcoholism, continue to lose my mother to the same, and oh yeah, have had no idea what the fuck I am doing. Yes, these things are super unpleasant, but I am not going to let them stop me from fully living my life and becoming the person I want to be. I have learned from each experience and hope to go on to apply what I have learned throughout the rest of my life. What I know for sure is that without downs there are no ups – and vice versa. Life wouldn’t be interesting without it, right? I choose to ride the rollercoaster.
25. Figuring out who you are & what you want is going to be a lifelong journey
Like I said, managing our health and learning new things and unpleasant experiences are a lifelong process. I am still on this said journey. So I can’t really help you that much on this one. But I am choosing to make it worthwhile. That is why I am down to figure it out together. Please, won’t you join me on this wild ride?
What have you learned along your life’s journey so far? What has your quarter life crisis looked like? I would love to hear others’ experiences!