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For more info on sending in questions, see the bottom of this post. Now let’s get down to bossing people around on the internet! Today we’re gonna talk about what happens when you graduate from college without a job or knowing what your life is going to look like.
Q: I graduated from a great school a little over a year ago. I’m depressed, unemployed, and living with my parents. I don’t know where to go from here or how to get there. They don’t prepare you for this as a possibility. They don’t prepare you for failure.
A: Okay, a few things first! I’m so sorry you’re depressed, and that you’re feeling lost and helpless and unhappy. I remember graduating from college and how it was sort of awful, because Life was supposed to start afterwards but it turned out that Life after college was a lot like Life before college except I was broke and terrified. I mean I was mostly those things in college too, but this time the stakes were much higher. The first order of business, I think, is to let yourself feel bad for a little while. I think that for a lot of people in this position, it feels like it’s a little ridiculous to be unhappy — after all, you have a college degree, don’t you, and parents who you have a good enough relationship with that they’ll help support you? Isn’t it a little self-centered to feel bad about that when so many other people are also unemployed? Well, it’s true that a college degree and a (at least marginally) supportive family are privileges, and there are other people who don’t have them. But reminding yourself that other people feel worse isn’t really a good way to make yourself feel better, and telling yourself that you shouldn’t feel bad when you actually do doesn’t really help either. So: give yourself maybe one week from this point on to feel bad. Cry, obsess over what you’re going to do with the rest of your life, look up all your exes who have jobs with TFA, lock yourself in your bedroom with a bottle of wine and watch Tiny Furniture by yourself (it’s streaming on Netflix!).
And then, after your allotted week, stop. Or at least do your best to (while forgiving yourself if you still feel bad sometimes, because that’s what depression is, and also see above re: telling yourself you shouldn’t feel bad). Because here’s the thing: I know you’re thinking of this as failure, but it’s not. This is your life, it actually really is. And deciding that your life hasn’t really begun until it looks exactly as you planned it would mean that you’re going to let a lot of your life just happen around you while you wait for the real thing. The key is to recognize that this is the real thing, and then take charge of it.
So: start making moves. You need to do something with your days and with your time. What exactly those things are is up to you, I guess, but it sounds like looking for a job is a good place to start. (I don’t mean to imply that you aren’t already looking for a job, but it seems silly not to mention it, you know?) Set a goal, and decide to apply to at least one job a day, maybe two or three if you’re very ambitious. Apply to everything, even things that you don’t think you can get, everything from hostessing to production assistant-ing to dogwalking. The idea is to become the best ever at applying for jobs, World Champion of cover letters. Get reference letters from old employers and professors if you haven’t yet. In the meantime, work on becoming a genuinely awesome person to employ. It sounds sort of stupid maybe, but think about starting a blog where you talk about career interests or your industry of choice (if you don’t have one already). People our age are sometimes hindered by not having a lot of “real job experience” in their industry, but if you have a really smart and well-written blog to point potential employers to where it’s clear that you’re well-informed and know what’s up, that’s a big plus.
Also, you didn’t mention loans or a specific money situation, but let’s go with the worst-case (and likely) scenario that you have crippling student loan debt and therefore attendant masses of vague but very threatening Money Anxiety at all times. It’s also very possible and even likely that you’re not sure what your exact financial situation is, because it’s terrifyingly easy to graduate from years of schooling with huge debt without anyone ever having told you exactly what it is. So: even though it maybe seems like the worst possible thing in the world and also something you can Totally Put Off because you’re probably still in a grace period, do yourself a favor and look into your financial situation now. How much debt do you have? Is it subsidized or unsubsidized? What payment plan will work best for you when you do have to start repayment? Will that answer change based on whether or not you’ve found a job? Are there some loans you should pay down as soon as possible and some that don’t accrue much interest and so can wait longer? I know it’s super scary, but in my experience knowing and having a plan is always less scary than not knowing and not having a plan, and when it comes to large sums of money, surprises are never good. Trust me on this one: worth the time and Xanax!
It’s important to have a life outside of job applications, though! Unemployed people also deserve to have fun, and hobbies, and friends. Make a list of a dozen free fun things to do in your area, and make plans to do all of them with friends or family. This is a great time to investigate (cheap!) hobbies that you’ve always wanted to get into. Canning! Needlepoint! Nunchucks! Learning Sanskrit! Even outside of college, and even without a job (for now), you can still do really awesome things that are meaningful and enjoyable to you. Having purpose is important for being happy, and it’s easy for us to conflate “purpose” with “work;” so if we don’t have work, we feel totally without purpose. But purposeful play and fun is a thing that exists, and the joy and satisfaction that comes from a really fulfilling hobby can be fantastic.
Lastly, hey, neat, you’re living with your parents! Obvs in some ways this is rough. Sometimes your parents are annoying! It’s hard to find time alone! You worry about whether they can hear your vibrator through the walls! For real though, it’s totally possible for resentment to build on both sides. You can start to take out the fact that you have to live with them on them, and they can start to roll their eyes at your being around all the time, etc. Which sucks, because feeling like you’re sixteen at home again on top of your unemployment and debt is probably pretty awful! So before that happens, take charge of things and decide that you’re going to try to take this opportunity to make your relationship with your parents better, not worse. What are they like as people? What are you like as a person, now that you’re (mostly) all grown up? It’s a neat chance for each of you to actually get to know those people, and to develop a relationship that is based on common interests instead of just common DNA. Ask if everyone can make dinner together once a week! Invite them to do things with you! Not everyone wants to be friends with their parents, and that’s okay. But at the very least, it seems like a good goal to be in a better place with your parents after moving back in than a worse one.
Above all, remember to keep perspective: that no matter what happens this year, it will ultimately, in the long string of anecdotes and joys and sorrows and tequila sunrises and BBC miniseries that makes up your life, be a brief moment. No matter how bad the year after you graduate from college is, it is going to be The Year After You Graduate From College, and will be followed by many other years, which is both a good and a bad thing. But no matter how dismal it seems now, don’t discount that this could still be your year.
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