While most students graduate in the spring, a good number of Penn students are graduating next month! Many people will say that their undergrad years were the best years of their lives. While this may be true for some, for myself, graduating was the beginning of an even more amazing period of growth and self-discovery.
However, leaving school for the ‘real world’ comes with its own set of challenges. Here are some you may encounter after you walk or cartwheel across the stage to receive your diploma, and tips on how to work through them. (While this was written with a recent graduate in mind, this information also applies to current students.)
Feeling aimless or purposeless
For almost your entire life, your primary identity has been ‘Student.’ Now that you’ve graduated, you are most likely working a full-time job in a starting position in an industry you studied and interviewed hard for. But now that the daily cycle of working full time has set in, you may be having buyer’s remorse about the life you’ve signed up for. You don’t know exactly what you’re working towards or you may have doubts as to why you’re working towards the goals you already set for yourself.
Relax. You don’t need to have your life figured out when you graduate. The secret no one tells you is that nobody has their lives figured out, even those who look like they have it all together. People just get better at hiding this or hopefully, accepting this, as they get older. The best you can do is to make the best next step for yourself.
Focus on what makes you come alive and gives you energy rather than what you feel like you ‘should’ do. While your parents, community, or culture may tell you that you need to enter a certain industry in order to make a lot of money, possess tremendous amounts of power, or become a valuable member of society, try to quiet this noise and ask yourself what you truly want. Rather than think about what titles or prestige you want associated with your name, think about the impact that you want to have on the world and how you want to feel on a daily basis.
Feeling like you have no time
Between working, commuting, running errands, paying bills, and getting enough sleep to be a functional human being, you may feel like you have no time. Unfortunately, this does not get any easier.
The truth is that you do have time, you just have to make harder decisions about how you spend your time now. Through finding many helpful resources online and applying them, I’ve learned to evaluate my priorities and find time to fit them in to each day.
I recommend writing out your weekly schedule. Identify the things you absolutely need to do (e.g. sleep, eat, work, go to school, commute) and block those in first. Then list the things you’d like to do (e.g. read, exercise, meditate, meetup groups, etc.). You may have to slot in the activity at a less-than-ideal time, but it is much more important to find some time to do it during your day if it’s important to you.
FOMO and low self-esteem
Thanks to the internet and social media, we have access to an endless stream of others’ carefully curated life highlights. With all that information, it often appears that everyone else’s lives are amazing (between sky diving in the Caribbean, riding ATV’s in the desert, and eating gourmet, hyper-photogenic food). Frequent use of social media, especially image-centric platforms like Instagram, has been shown by studies to correlate with declining mental health (including anxiety, depression, FOMO, and low self-esteem). As someone who has both heavily used social media at some points and taken breaks (and even gone so far as to delete my accounts) at others, I have observed that my own mental health has improved the less time I spend on social media.
While you may not want to delete all your accounts, it can be helpful to set time limits on apps, set designated social media times of day, or choose certain days of the week to use your apps. You may be surprised how much more time, and calmness, you discover as a result.
Chances are you graduated and moved away from your family and to a new city. Outside of college, it can be challenging to make new friends without the structure and proximity that classes, clubs, and dorms provide.
I recommend joining communities around the activities that you already like. Whether it’s community service, cultural organizations, recreational sports, or a language or arts class, joining a recurring activity-centered community is a great way to begin connecting with others. Remember that healthy, sustainable friendships are primarily based on a combination of positivity, vulnerability, and consistent interactions!