Transitioning into adult life after school is no easy process. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
By Naomi Barling.
“University will be the best time of your life.” “Enjoy every minute.” “Make the most of it.”
Most of us have been told something along these lines and in reality, time does go too fast. However, these clichés can be vague at best and unhelpful at worst. What really happens once the glory days are over?
In some ways graduating can be harder than the endless hours, blood, sweat, and tears spent in the studio or library. You spend years in a protective bubble of purpose, schedules, time frames, and directed work. Suddenly that bubble bursts and you are released into an uncertain world, expected to have the ‘adult’ thing figured out. The world is your oyster, but you don’t know where to start. It’s easy to end up spiraling into a morass of panic and indecision. I had to quickly learn what armor worked for me and which battles I was going to fight. I had to try and lower my immediate expectations and ignore the invisible pressure to be great overnight. I realized I didn’t have to be good at life straight away, and who defines what ‘good’ is anyway? It’s not a race, and looking sideways, backward, or on Instagram too much could slow down my journey. Jealousy can manifest in bizarre ways and is not good for morale.
Graduates spend years striving to reach the next deadline, the next milestone, finish the next project or essay. The emptiness of unplanned days and weeks can feel very overwhelming and anti-climactic. The problem with post-university depression is that no one really talks about it or takes it seriously. It can be perceived as a made-up thing where young adults don’t want to take responsibility, but plenty of research suggests that young adults experience impactful depression upon graduation. How can you instantly become accustomed to something you have no experience with?
My personal graduate anxieties had a lot to do with how I thought my life was supposed to be, the life I had created in my head during years of stability at university, the things I thought would make me happy. The life I dreamt of and planned for became a lot harder when I had to start making it a reality, from paying the bills to coping with questions about what I was going to do next and if I was finally dating someone ‘good for me’ who could ‘deal with my ambition.’ I had to be my own cheerleader and critic, my own boss setting boundaries and plans.
Photo via winoa_vintage
But just because it’s hard does not mean it’s impossible.
At the end of my first post-graduation, I wrote this note in my diary:
“This year I worked hard freelancing, learned about tax returns, and chasing invoices. Understood my worth and how to pick myself up after hearing countless ‘Nos’ and getting ignored by people I thought would be able to help. I have been paid badly and also quite well. I have cried and questioned every life choice, and I have had every possible philosophical discussion about adult life with me, myself, and I. How am I going to find meaning, purpose, respect, fulfillment, money, joy, happiness, love? Will I ever be able to move out of my parents’ house and stay in my city, London? This year has been hard. Real-life can sometimes feel like an endless list of admin. Do I make it harder on myself by being so ambitious? Was the life I thought I wanted really what I want? Did I ever actually think about it or was I just guided by autopilot thoughts reflecting the big screen’s interpretation of life? I miss my friends; we are all so busy these days.”
What I realized in that first year is the importance of not always knowing what’s next. We can only control ourselves and our actions and be aware of the critical importance of enjoying the process as best we can. Maybe I am exactly where I need to be right now.
If you build inner strength, inner understanding, and work towards self-love and acceptance, you will find the road to somewhere and experience a far more enjoyable process because you won’t ever feel lost.I remind myself often that most people, whatever their age, are in the same boat, having similar moments of existential crisis and trying to figure out how they can be their best selves. I am not the only one hustling, even though at times it feels like it. I’m no different or more important than the person next to me. We are all doing the same thing, trying to build a life, develop a passion, monetize what we love, or just survive on this floating planet.
I will find my flow, and so will you. No state of existence is permanent. We can just hope that at each stage of life we will be able to say: nothing worth having comes easily, and I now see why it was all worth it.
Homepage photo credit via trillmoodboard