So, you’re probably freaking out, at least a little bit. And it’s definitely okay to freak out. I remember what it’s like. I’m not keen on giving generalized advice, but I can offer you my experiences, and as with any story, you can take your own lessons from them.
In the months winding down to graduation day, I felt nauseous, from excitement and (mostly) anxiety. I felt like I had accomplished something huge, but still insignificant, like swimming through a channel’s rough current only to end up at the ocean’s gaping mouth.
I would remember the seniors who graduated before me, and how well it seemed they were handling things. They held their monumental moment with grace and seemed eager to leave it all behind: the classes, the homework, the confines of campus life. And then the school year would end, and the graduates would walk into the mystical realm outside the campus walls. Graduating seemed like date rape or a horrific car crash, some life-changing event that happened to other people.
My senior year snuck upon me with such velocity. Suddenly I was the one talking the most in class (and hopefully sounding intelligent), cracking out A-grade papers mere hours before they were due, and joking with professors in and out of class like we were friends. I just got good at being in college, I thought after finishing a 17 page research paper in 9 hours, and now I have to leave!
I was desperate for any form of security. I needed something –anything- to cling to. No one was safe from my not-so-subtle “soooo…where are you living next year do you need a roommate?” I met with several professors about my Next Steps, and for our 30-minute talk over Jit Joe’s coffee I felt fine, as though the only thing you needed to succeed was encouragement and emphatic nodding. But, like a good high, the feeling never lasted long. I’d wake up the next day with the same gnawing in my stomach, the only difference evident in my Bookmarked tabs, which became cluttered with various job posting sites and grad school applications based on professors’ suggestions. There was no raft that could get me across that ocean, at least in one piece.
I graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature with minors in Anthropology and Creative Writing. I would be going out into the world essentially unemployable. I decorated my cap with “Poet for Hire” as a joke, though I was at the same time completely serious, hoping to catch the eye of some small-time publisher or magazine editor who would spot me among the hundreds of robed graduates and think “yes, I would hire her!” and race to find me after the ceremony and offer me an interview.
That never happened, of course. I left the University Center in a daze, took a picture with the iconic bear statue, and went to dinner, where my dad promptly pointed out “Hey, honey, you’re now unemployed!”
And I stayed unemployed seven months after that. I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you: it has been hard. Every aspect of my life is completely different than it was a year ago. Every day I had three questions lingering over me: How am I going to get a job? How am I going to make friends? How am I going to do this at all?
It’s true; I still miss my college days. Nothing was ever a surprise: I went to class, I did homework, I saw my friends. I didn’t have to worry about much except the next pending assignment I kept shoving off. I was content. But under the surface of all this new uncertainty lies possibility.
I currently work in government, for a non-profit, and at a local bookstore. I am friends with people I never would have thought I could bond with. I am still writing and got to take a class with my favorite poet. I’m becoming a local in a city I’ve always wanted to live. So many great things have blossomed since last May, and I somehow can’t believe how scared I was.
It’s understandable to feel scared, to feel lost. But the sooner you know this, and I mean really know this, the easier it will be: life happens. Excuse the obvious “open-letter-listicle wisdom,” but it’s true. Life happens. It’s that simple, though it’s not simple coming to that realization. You will not be doing your dream job at 22. You will eat rice four nights in a row because it’s easy to make and, most importantly, cheap. You will lose touch with college friends and professors. You will challenge yourself at a job you never thought you’d do. You will go out of your comfort zone and befriend strangers. You will learn how to pay bills and up your credit score and meal-prep on Sundays (all rice) for the following work week. And you will do so much more.
While walking to work one cool spring morning, the sun barely stretching over the horizon, I had my realization of Hey, I did it. I have always wanted to live in Savannah, a little haven in the swamps of South Georgia, and I was doing it. I was walking to work amidst the picturesque oaks and steeples I’d dreamed of. The azaleas were in bloom, the city perfumed in jasmine. I felt excitement, and anxious. I had swum another large stretch only to discover so much water remained before me. I already know Savannah is not my forever home, and I will begin this cycle again, but I’m not frightened as I was a year ago. I now know I am strong enough to swim, and I will keep going. You will keep going. It will not be easy, but you will be fine.
Say it yourself, whisper it like a prayer: “I will be fine. I will be fine. I will be fine.”