Life After Graduation: Dealing with Uncertainty and Unemployment

Self-Help

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Dépaysement (n.) when someone is taken out of their own familiar world into a new one

If I had to pick one word to completely describe my life right now, it would be this one. I truly do feel that when I walked across the stage to receive my diploma in April, I came out on the other side and was propelled into a different dimension. My life has completely changed in the last few months and has been filled with so many wonderful experiences. Since graduating, I launched a campaign that I’ve been working on for a year, I won an award from the American Cancer Society,  I traveled Europe for a month, I moved to Saint Petersburg, I started a life with my boyfriend, and I spontaneously visited my best friend across the country. I’ve also used my new found time to get more serious about my blog, make new friends, get in shape, and focus on my mental health. It really has been an incredible few months, and I feel blessed that I had this opportunity to better myself and have new life experiences.

But, life after graduation is not all glamours.

My entire life I had always known what was coming next at the end of the school year, but for the first time, I had no idea what to expect or what would happen. As much as life has been filled with wonderful life experiences, life has been equally filled with the unknown, uncertainty, and unemployment.

In the months leading up to graduation and in the few months after graduation, I could not have been more thrilled to move out and move on with my life. Then, something happened. The closer I got to approaching this major life change, the more I was starting to have anxiety about the future. It’s funny how you can go your entire young adult life dreaming about the day you get to become an adult, but when the day finally comes, you start to panic. With each passing day, the excitement slowly went away and my fears grew louder. My inner voice started to sound something like this…

What if I’ll never be able to travel again?
What if I never find a job?
What if I get stuck doing something I hate?
What if I drain my savings paying my bills?
What if I don’t make friends?
What if I don’t ever find my way around?
What if Matt and I hate living together?
What if I become a boring adult who doesn’t have fun anymore?
What if I don’t make enough money to cover my rent?
What am I going to do with my life?

On a few occasions, my fears about the future were crippling. I would lay in bed with anxiety that was so bad, it was physically painful. Combined with the anxiety that I was already experiencing, the job hunt was not going well. The first few months after graduation was exciting, but now my time was spent paying bills with my savings and collecting rejection emails. I just couldn’t find a position that met my qualifications and interests. And when I did, nothing would come from it. Every job I applied for turned into a dead end. I’d get nothing in return other than an email that said, “Sorry, we’ve moved on in the hiring process.”

Slowly, the stress from this big life change and being unemployed was starting to affect my daily life. I started to feel lazy, unmotivated, slightly depressed, and self-conscious. It felt like I had nothing to do with my life and no sense of purpose. So, I coped with these stressors in the usual way, writing about them, and talking to just about anyone who would listen.

Everyone tried their best to cheer me up and give me a pep talk. They would nod along to what I was saying, because they too have dealt with moments of uncertainty in their lives, especially after graduation. But a common theme that I’ve noticed during my conversations, was people saying, “You shouldn’t be feeling this way, everyone goes through this.” Or, “You shouldn’t be so anxious and hard on yourself, you’re doing the best you can.” Or, “No one can really plan for the future, so there’s no sense in you being worried about it.” Followed by the usual comments like, “relax,” “calm down,” or “just breathe.” I will say that these are all thoughtful, rational comments that I received. I appreciate everyone who tried to cheer me up and take the ease my worries about the future.

But as much as people tried to make me feel better, I often left these conversations feeling worse than I did before. I heard the same cliques over and over again about how I should relax. Fun fact, no one has ever told me that I should relax, calm down, or “not be so hard on myself,” causing all of my negative emotions to evaporate into the wind – never to be seen or heard from again. That doesn’t happen.

And for some reason, these conversations always began with someone telling me why I shouldn’t feel negative emotions like anxiety, nervousness, sadness, etc. I know that this is how we naturally want to comfort others. From an outsiders perspective looking in, you can see when a friend or family member is being overly hard on themselves and making the problem worse. You can tell when someone is feeding the negative emotions, and you want that person to calm down and see all of their amazing qualities and potential. Although it comes from a place of love and good intention, it often makes the problem worse by telling someone they shouldn’t be anxious, depressed, or angry. It’s the complete opposite of what they need to hear.

Why?

Today, we’re surrounded by thousands of images and videos of gorgeous, rich, smiling, and happy people on the internet. My generation in particular shapes our views of ourselves and the world around us based on what we see online. So, there’s already so much pressure to look perfect, have our lives figured out, and be as happy as everyone else looks on Instagram. Then, at the end of the day when we talk to those around us about feelings of uncertainty and stress, hearing statements like, “You shouldn’t be anxious,” contributes to the problem. In the world that we live in, people are made to believe that we’re supposed to be happy all the time… because everyone else looks happy all the time (at least from the outside looking in). So, if we feel depressed or anxious, then there’s something wrong with us.

But that’s far from the truth. Sadness and depression are both parts of the human experience. Negative emotions are part of the human experience. Feeling uncertain, scared, nervous, fearful – all part of the human experience. And wondering what your life plan is and facing challenges… all part of the experience. Wouldn’t it be bizarre if everyone was born immediately knowing what they wanted to do with their lives and were comically happy all the time? It would actually be pretty creepy. Something meant for movies about alternative universes.

How to really deal with the uncertainty…

1. Know that your feelings are valid

Those icky feelings that creep in when you don’t have a job or don’t know what your next step in life is, are all ok. It’s completely ok and completely normal to feel nervous, anxious, and uncertain. Even feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, and unfulfilled are all a part of it. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that these emotions are unacceptable. Because then, you’ll still have all the other feelings as before… now you’ve just thrown guilt into the mix! Why make yourself feel guilty for feeling anxious? What good will that do you?

2. Do what you can

Don’t push yourself too hard to a point where you make the situation worse. It’s important to take breaks and clear your head. When I was looking for a job I always felt like I didn’t do enough. Whether I sent out 10, 20, 30, or 40 job applications, I always felt like I should be doing more. As if I’m a robot whose sole purpose is to fill out my address 150 times a day on applications and write a never-ending stream of cover letters. But it was just overkill. As important as it is to work hard and do what you have to do to pay your bills, it’s equally important to stand up, go for a walk, take a break, and clear your head. Just do what you can and allow yourself to step away.

3. Do something that your future self would benefit from

No matter how terrible or stuck you may feel in your current situation, you must take care of yourself. It’s normal that when we feel crappy, we want to reach for comfort food, avoid the gym, sleep all day, etc. Don’t! Continue to eat well, sleep well, and exercise. Letting yourself give up on those things, will only make you feel worse later. So do something that your future self will thank you for. Don’t let the running shoes collect dust in the back of the closet. Use them. Taking care of yourself physically will make you feel better mentally too. Plus, it could be the difference between feeling confident in a job interview or behaving timidly and blowing your chance.

I’m happy to share that I now have a full-time job as of this week! So all that anxiety is behind me, just as I’m finally posting this blog. Sorry for the delay (: But I hope this helps if you’re currently dealing with uncertainty and unemployment. Graduating college and transitioning into a new world comes with some many life experiences, challenges, and emotions. Oh, so many emotions…

Photos by Mohammad Khalil.

As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments! Are you currently dealing with uncertainty in your life? How have you coped and learned to accept the stress that comes with it? Thanks for reading!

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