Navigating Post-Grad Life
I want to first acknowledge that this post doesn’t take into account the additional struggles + loneliness COVID-19 has caused over the past two years, as I graduated in 2018 + can only speak to my experience. For those who have graduated during the pandemic or will be graduating this year, this article has a lot of information + advice about post-grad life with the added impacts the pandemic has caused.
With all of the excitement that graduation + “adult life” bring, we aren’t usually told about or expecting life post-grad to feel really, really lonely + isolating. You probably will move into a new place, start a new job, + your friends will no longer be down the hall or street — some may not even be in the same timezone as you! For me, it felt like my friends were leaving one by one — by the time my birthday came around in October, I realized I didn’t have many people to invite out.
Loneliness is only the beginning, though that’s not to say that there isn’t good in this next stage of life! The years following graduation are filled with new experiences + opportunities for so much joy ++ growth. Below are some common experiences that I myself faced post-grad, along with ways to help cope so you can enjoy this *new* chapter of your life!
The Myth of Post-Grad Joy
As this article from the Southern New Hampshire University Newsroom states, you won’t find the term “post-grad depression” in the American Psychiatric Association’s dictionary. Still, research shows how real it is + the impact it has on recent grads.
We’re conditioned to be joyful + celebrate moving forward, but we don’t acknowledge the hurt that can come from ending this phase of your life. When you think about it, by the time you graduate from college, being a student has likely been part of your identity for the past 15-20 years. Two decades of your life have been different versions of similar experiences throughout school, + realizing that you won’t be a student again is a huge change that’s often overlooked.
Once the ceremonies are over, your “future” comes at full speed. If you don’t have a job lined up after graduation — much like myself, who didn’t land my first full-time gig until eight months post-grad — you may even start to question your purpose, + the comparison game only amplifies. Your social media feed can quickly fill up with photos of your peers celebrating their new life + successes. Although we know social media isn’t reality, it can still hurt to see others doing “better” compared to you.
It’s important to remind yourself that everyone is on a different journey. + if you find yourself feeling bad about certain people’s posts, now is the perfect time to unfollow + refresh your feeds without worrying about seeing the person around campus. There’s an ill-conceived notion that you need to have your life figured out by the time you graduate, but the truth is that now is the time for growth, experimentation, + truly finding yourself.
Preparing for A LOT of Change
Chances are you’re not going to stay in your college town after graduation, so your next move will put you in a new neighborhood. After spending the past 4+ years within the same few miles, this can be a significant change that’ll force you to find new routines // commutes // things to do. Your gym, coffee shop, favorite restaurants, etc. will change in the blink of an eye, which may cause some grief. We often associate grief with death, but grief can be caused by any drastic change, especially one you had no control over.
These feelings aren’t just limited to the months following graduation. Last year, I lost my job of 2.5 years + had a hard time accepting the grief that I was feeling because of this loss. It’s comforting to remember that change is inevitable, being something that every single person goes through, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to navigate. Change can feel like both a good + bad thing at the same time, + that’s okay. Be sure to give yourself grace during this time of change ++ remind yourself that there’s no timetable for you to adjust.
Navigating New [+ Old] Relationships
Post-grad life really tests the friendships that you have already. Living in different states, being on different work schedules, + even being in different stages of life can take a toll on your friendships. It’s so easy to get caught up in your own world that you forget to reach out to those close to you, + your friends do the same. On the other hand, you might have friendships that fade, + you’ll find that it was actually for the better. While you may have to now plan to hang out with friends, this also means you can choose not to see others.
It may be the case that you never really had to “try” making friends — natural friendships formed by sharing the same classes, living on the same floor, or being on the same team // in the same club. Post-grad is different. At work, you may only have a few, if any, co-workers that are the same age as you. The same goes for the gym or workout classes. School is a natural environment to create friendships, so don’t be surprised if you start having trouble forming new connections. The biggest (+ hardest!) advice is to put yourself out there. Most people won’t mind having a casual conversation + you never know where it might lead! There are also apps + groups to help you form those connections post-grad — check out these 12 friendship apps!
Maximizing Free Time + Minimizing Burnout
College kids keep themselves busy. In college, I had a 20 hour/week internship, a full class load, + sat on multiple executive boards. Once I went full-time, I realized I had so much free time when I would come home from work… + that was it. I didn’t have to study. I didn’t have to make time for board meetings or group projects. I also realized I didn’t really have hobbies or didn’t care to do the same things anymore.
I think being active was one of the biggest changes I went through post-grad. For one, I no longer had access to my campus gym + realized just how expensive gym memberships + class passes could be. I also realized how ingrained working out was to my identity while in school, recognizing that part of the “student grind culture” included being active as a way to cope. When I was no longer in the environment of “eat, sleep, school, + workout,” I realized exercising was actually really low on my list of ways I wanted to spend my time.
Once your busy life starts to slow down, you may not know how to spend your free time. While it can feel overwhelming at first, it’s the perfect time for you to find new hobbies or pick up old ones [like reading for fun!], experiment with different activities, or enjoy the much-needed rest.
While you’ll likely feel the positives that slowing down brings, it’s also the time that the effects of burnout will catch up to you. Most students who have a “go, go, go” mentality set aside their stress + fatigue — when you always have something to do, it’s easy to “push through.” You may have even developed harmful coping mechanisms like high alcohol + drug use or heavy exercise. For me, therapy was crucial when navigating my burnout + finding new ways of coping with my [new + old] stressors.
Finding the Path That Works for You
Navigating post-grad life will truly have you going through all of the emotions, + everyone will have different experiences with it. The two most important things to remember, though, are that you’re not alone ++ there’s no “right” experience or path to have during this time. If you find yourself struggling post-graduation, know that there are so many resources + ways to help yourself that you can find throughout the rest of the mental health resource guide.