Almost a year ago I graduated from one of the best places in the world, Warren Wilson College. Today is Wilson’s annual work day, where students gather to work on the campus. My former roommate and soul sister texted me at 8am this morning freaking out that it was work day, that we weren’t there and that it had been almost a year since we graduated.
As I read her text and April came into view I have to admit it’s extremely hard to believe that a year’s passed since I walked across a stage to receive my diploma. But more than that it’s hard to believe that I’ve been through so many internal evolutions since graduation. Not big, life-altering changes, just small little progressions in my own psyche. And then I thought maybe I’m not alone in feeling this way, maybe the post-grad experience is one of the most confusing and liberating experiences of them all.
So this is for all my grads coming up on their year anniversary and all those eager seniors about to graduate, let’s talk about this weird in-between land and figure it out together.
First things first, I chose to use music to express my three stages of post-grad life because, well, sometimes music rips your own thoughts from your inner psyche. Secondly, this is my own internal journey so it may not apply to everyone, but I think it might apply to quite a few.
Here we go: College is a time where you have a purpose, if nothing else it’s to get your diploma. Even if you don’t have a crazy social calendar, work or join clubs, go on road trips, or anything else associated with those four glorious years, everyone shares the goal of getting that diploma.
You sweat, cry and bleed for it. Every hour of toiling over homework, every day you endure a pompous professor, every ghastly minute of finals, every conversation with your elderly relations about your major, every second of gen eds, and everything in between is all for that diploma. And I will tell you this, walking across the stage to receive it is one of the proudest moments of your life.
However, during the struggle to get there you’re not thinking about the small mountain of student loans you’re acquiring or the sharp, sharp pain of entering the real world and having to work non-stop to attempt to pay of those loans. You’re not thinking about how much rent is going to be after graduation or how much a car and insurance is going to cost. Nope, during college it’s all about that diploma.
And as I said it’s glorious when you get it, and that high lasts for about a month. After a month or so of blissful pride and well deserved relaxation, you come to realize that your old summer job isn’t going to pay all these adult bills so you just start looking for work. On top of that you have the few friends who managed to nab a well-paying job that relates to their degree right after graduation, and effectively it’s adding insult to injury.
So you get a job that you don’t completely hate and actually pays your bills. You get another little high from being able to pay for everything and maybe having some splurge money at the end of the month. This high lasts another couple of months and then the mundanity sets in. On top of this the friends you grew so close to over the past four years, the people you see as family, are spread out across the country and it’s a struggle to maintain friendship across thousands of miles.
It’s at this point, where the post-grad funk sets in, or as I’ll call it the More than Useless stage.
The key lyrics from this song being, I feel like I would like to be somewhere else doing something that matters and sometimes I think that I’m not any good at all, sometimes I wonder why I’m even here at all?
For me, during the More than Useless stage I literally questioned everything I was doing. I didn’t know how to use the skills or qualities I’d gained through my time at Wilson, I didn’t know how to make money in my field, I didn’t know how to maintain my friendships, and I didn’t know how to regain a sense of purpose. It was also during this period when my friends, one in particular, was having similar feelings, even to the point of depression.
I honestly think this comes from the dramatic turn your life takes, from being purposeful and full of possibilities during college to being a creature of necessity and toil afterwards. No one quite prepares you for that during your college years, because it’s not a happy thought. Your professors, college staff members and academic elite want you to be full of hope and joy while you call college home, because even if they’re not saying it out loud they know what’s coming: an assault of seemingly meaningless yet all-consuming tasks, errands and ventures that exist purely to allow you to pay your bills. Things that make you fall into your bed at night, exhausted and fatigued, only to stare at the ceiling and think, this is my life?
The only thing I ever heard during my college tenure that remotely touched on this was a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace that I read during a creative non-fiction class. Here’s the audio/video of it.
Wallace’s speech talks specifically about the day in, day out aspects of life. The boring, unsexy, stressful, mundane shit that clogs up every day. It goes on to talking about the essence of life is finding moments of choosing to think on a higher level and in turn making the everyday scared. Which, trust me, I’m getting to, but in the More than Useless stage of the post-grad experience everything is just a little numbing and you’re desperately trying to hang on to who you were a few months ago on that graduation stage.
It’s a period that leaves you confused, angry, upset and vaguely resentful. After all, this isn’t what was promised during that rousing commencement speech. You hold on by a thread, a pulse in the back of your mind that bleeps along telling you it’s only a phase, that someday you can be something better.
It’s this pulse that leads to the Let it Out phase.
For me, this started around the end of September. I went to a concert with my older brother, and one of my favourite bands (Switchfoot) was playing. I hadn’t seen them perform in years, and it was one of those moments in between songs where Jon Foreman was discussing the inspiration behind their new album. “We’re talking about abundant life people,” he said to the crowd and as everyone cheered in response I thought about what that meant.
And I thought about this song, the key lyric being Are you holding on? Are you up against those ropes? Cause I know how it feels to lose hope. Are you holding in? Well come on, let it out.
The Let It Out phase is about letting out everything you’ve kept squashed inside and making conscious choices. It’s about admitting that you’re tired, pissed off and frustrated. It’s about owning the fact that you’re not the college senior or fresh graduate anymore. Instead you’re a member of the greater functioning society. A society that is crueler, tougher, blander and faster than those four years of college. But it can also be just as epic and beautiful as the college days. Now, I say all of this with a pinch of salt. The realization that I wanted to have an abundant life, that I wanted to make my post-grad self just as fulfilled and hopeful as my college self, started in September but the actions behind the thought took time.
I recognized that I needed to be grateful for the things I had in my life and for the small victories I had, but there were scattered between the mundane crap we already discussed. But I worked for the next few months I made decisions to take care of myself, to make memories, and to strive towards something better (even though I had no idea what that was yet).
I went on a trip to the West Coast with one of my best friends, I worked harder at the job that pays the bills, I started saving my money, I worked on creating a better social life, I signed up to volunteer with a writing mentoring program, I joined a gym and some other stuff too. This is obviously still a long way from where I want to be, where I thought I’d be a year after graduation, but it’s a start. That’s the point of the Let it Out phase, it’s still frustrating, you’re still falling in bed confused an exhausted but after the exhaustion, right before your eyelids close, you think I’m gonna keep working. I’m gonna keep pushing.
In my eyes, the Let it Out phase is about accepting where you are, deciding that someday (no matter how long it takes) things will change, and most importantly forgiving yourself for not being the highly successful bad-ass you thought you’d be at this point. And forgiveness, especially when you’re forgiving yourself, is a powerful thing. For me forgiveness and choosing to make the most of this confusing stage of life led to the Grown Woman phase.
We all know Beyonce is a huge advocate for women in general and for women loving themselves so this song just make so much sense for this next phase. The key lyrics being They love the way I walk,‘Cause I walk with a vengeance, And they listen to me when I talk ’cause I ain’t pretending, It took a while, now I understand just where I’m goin’, I know the world and I know who I am, It’s ’bout time I show it
Now, like the lyrics say, this stage took some time. I honestly had this realization about two weeks ago and that’s when I started thinking about writing this piece. I had worked an opening shift at my restaurant, spent the day smiling and kissing customer ass, to get home and decide to go to the gym. I went to a Zumba class and then went on a variety of exercise machines. There is one machine that works your back muscles, where you pull down handles from above your head and push them back up and down. I made myself increase my weight limit and as I pushed through the burn Grown Woman played on my ipod.
And thus I started grinning like an idiot, sufficiently freaking out the other gym attendees. I grinned because on that machine as I sweated in uncomfortable places and my arms burned I realized I should be proud of myself. I realized I was a grown up, and I know that sounds cheesy as hell, but it’s too true. There comes a point in every post-grad student’s life where you just sort of accept that college is done, and yes it’s monumentally terrifying but at the same time it’s immensely satisfying. My life is not anything like it was at college, and yes I would gladly rewind time and have my four years all over again, but the point is I am also damn proud of who I am now (more or less).
I’ve spent the time since my graduation helping my family, fostering new relationships, creating roots in the city I now call home, creating experiences, and working my butt off so I can provide for myself. That in itself is a worthy achievement and something that college does not prepare for you at all. I take pride in the fact that I can take care of myself, and can strive towards my grander goals. It’s an everyday achievement that millions of people do every day but we never celebrate it, because it seems small in comparison to the grandeur we were promised during a commencement speech. Yet grandeur is built upon the victories of everyday living, and this phase of the post-grad life is exactly that. It’s me laying down the foundations of my life beyond a four-year degree, while still choosing to take everything I learnt there with me. It’s what a grown woman does.
So yes, I’m a grown woman and that my seem silly, but if Queen B can write a song about it I think I’m allowed to wholeheartedly embrace that stage of my life as well.
It’s not everything I wished for when I graduated, and definitely not where I thought I’d be at this point, but that’s okay. I have a lifetime to fulfill all the dreams I had when I walked across that graduation stage and I’m not wasting another moment feeling guilty, angry or depressed for not being there yet.
This grown woman is on her way and she’s walking with a vengeance. So watch out big, bad world, I’m coming for you.