During my final year of college, my friends who’d already graduated regularly warned me that “life after school sucks.” Judging from their gloomy disposition, I believed them. They weren’t fun to hang out with anymore, and all they did was whine about the job market. During school they planned only as far as the next weekend, but suddenly they were determined to plan their entire futures. They wanted it all—a high-paying, important, and glamorous career—and they wanted it immediately. Many of them—working at transitional jobs in the retail or restaurant business—grew frustrated, because it wasn’t quite working out the way they’d planned.
Once the security blanket of college has been stripped away, many recent graduates find themselves in an awkward limbo between adolescence and adulthood. Sometimes referred to as the “Quarter-life Crisis,” this period of uncertainty and dissatisfaction often follows graduation. Symptoms include confusion, insecurity, disappointment, and regret. And while it’s not a new phenomenon, rising expectations and an increasingly competitive job market have made it more widespread. In recent years, a whole slew of Quarter-life Crisis-themed self-help books and support groups have surfaced. Oprah even dedicated an entire episode to the problem—titled Turbulent Twenties—during which psychologists declared that this age is more difficult now than ever before.
Now I have joined the ranks, and it’s true—the transition is tough. I’m broke. I have minimal health insurance that won’t last much longer. I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, and please my parents and repay student loans–all at the same time. And unlike in college, there is no road map or team of advisors to help guide me.
But wait—shouldn’t my twenties be the coolest years of my life? That’s what I always thought. I’m mostly free from family obligations. I get to be self-absorbed; I have no homework; and I will never be this good-looking again. That doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
So to those of you who are bugging–I understand completely, but my advice to you is this: chill the fuck out.
Learn to appreciate this time in your life. Get out and explore your options, but don’t expect it to happen all at once. Your future is a blank diary, so embrace the uncertainty, and begin to fill it up with lots of fabulous experiences. And don’t neglect other aspects of your life while you focus on your career. Just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean your education is over. Read, listen to new music, and meet new people.
But whatever you do, don’t let society’s one-dimensional definition of success make you feel bad about your life, and remember that your career does not define you. Because one of the most important things I learned during my last year of college is that the worst effect of a Quarter-life Crisis is that it can make you an insufferable bore. And I, for one, refuse to let that happen.