If you graduated this year, congratulations! You’ve skipped, stumbled, leaped, trudged, and crawled through the gamut of undergraduate scholarship, personal development, and style evolution: indie rock bands have been fruitful on campuses; full beards and striped socks have multiplied.
You’ve gone through changes (cue either Big Mouth‘s theme song or the live 1973 version of David Bowie’s Changes, depending on your aesthetic preference) and accomplished something you can be proud of. You ~connected~ with like-minded people and had late-night calzone adventures with your ragtag group of misfits. You pierced your septum, started wearing high-waisted jeans, and finally figured out the trigonometry of the Hyades star cluster. You worked for dining services and rang up enough Uncrustables, Clif bars, and Red Bulls to feed and caffeinate a small country. You got a tattoo on your ankle that says NATTY. College was a lot. You’re kind of a lot, these days.
But it’s time to put away such childish things, gloomy grads, and enter the sparkling, terrifying abyss that is adulthood. Some of you may feel excited, expansive, and more than ready for a new chapter. Others may be wondering if it’s still possible to do a fifth year (seriously Mom, it’s essential to my career trajectory to complete a minor in Ancient Babylonian Magic and Medicine. Yes, I’m planning on going into finance. MOM, yes it IS relevant, do you even realize how important it is to be well-rounded? Okay, fine, yes, one of the reasons I want to do a fifth year is because I’m not ready to take on the responsibilities of full-time employment and financial independence, but I also NEED to complete my minor in Ancient Babylonian Magic and Medicine, OKAY Mom?!).
Most of you fall somewhere in between. However you feel about having graduated, you’re here now, and you’re surely experiencing peaks and pitfalls alike in your recent foray out of the undergraduate bubble.
If you’re not going straight to grad school, you probably have to find something to do. You have to find (closes eyes tightly, gulps)… employment. Opportunity will not come knocking at your door. And when you go knocking on Opportunity’s door, Opportunity will let you know that she has three children, a full-time job, and a beloved pet bulldog with pneumonia, so no, she doesn’t have time for door-to-door solicitors. Finding employment is hard, and finding employment that’s right for you is even harder. Recent grads are also more likely to attempt to make money off of creative pursuits, which, while hip as heck, entails huge competition for any job, let alone a great job.
So the world is not an oyster, and you are not a pearl. The world is some kind of unidentifiable clownfish-adjacent seafood snack in a child-proof plastic container that you need to figure out how to open, because you’re not a child anymore, right? No, come on, you’re twisting it the wrong way. Twist it to the left and squeeze the sides with your other hand, then pop the cap off. Still no? Cool. Stop crying. This isn’t a big deal. Here, I’ll do it for you. See? Easy. No, no it’s fine, don’t apologize, you’re just really stressed out and you want to go home. But where is home now? Too dark, moving on.
You are pathless. Say it with me now: I. Am. Pathless. And if you are not pathless, your path is so windy and meandering that you can’t even see seven steps ahead. Odysseus has nothing on you. You used to know what you were passionate about; you used to have a plan. Now, a second degree in astrophysics and a future as an astronaut helping the government colonize Mars just doesn’t feel realistic. And neither does being a video girl for Tyga. Which is garbage, because you love Tyga.
Not only are your former aspirations beginning to seem impractical, but you’re also not sure why you had most of them in the first place. They don’t feel as meaningful anymore (probably something to do with that philosophy of nihilism course you took junior year after your girlfriend went abroad and dumped you for some Swedish cad, leaving you no choice but to listen to The Birth of Power on audiobook while frantically Juuling mint pods on the pedal-bike at the gym).
When you were eleven you read an article about a compassionate, brilliant veterinarian who birthed foals, so for years that was your dream. Unfortunately, you’re allergic to all animals, and you actually aren’t that into animals, in fact you actively dislike most of them, so that feels like a no. In middle school you wanted to be a model, but foundation makes your skin break out. In high school you thought maybe you’d be a doctor, but in college it became apparent that you are incapable of passing organic chemistry. That’s just a fact and it actually happens to a lot of people. You have other strengths. It’s fine. Everything is fine.
You thought you’d come out of college knowing exactly who you are, but you know 99% less about the world than you did when you started. Even if you’re pretty sure what you want your career to look like, and you’re ready to take the steps necessary to get there, you also have $38,000 in college debt, seven teddy bears in graduation caps taking up valuable real estate in your bedroom, and a thesis that’s going to embarrass you in two months. So here you are, pathless and unafraid. Kidding! Here you are, pathless and afraid.
The point I’m getting at—what all recent college grads need to know—is that this is going to be hard, at least in the beginning. Life after college, I mean. Life after sweet, sweet college, where you had stability and routine, and you spent your nights using hardcover textbooks as pillows and your days taking your ultimate frisbee team too seriously. It’s also important to remember that, difficult though it may be, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. You graduated, right? You’re equipped with an education, one of the most powerful things in the world, even if it doesn’t feel like it. And while it’s frightening, not having a path can actually be—stay with me here—exciting.
You’re a big, fleshy orb floating through the cosmos, experiencing everything as an independent being, maybe for the first time. You’re shopping for groceries and voting for councilmen. You’re doing taxes and eating discount frozen fruit from Shoprite instead of discount frozen chicken fingers from the dining hall. You have kept a Whole Foods orchid alive for over 77 hours. And counting. You can knit. You have time to knit. Where there once was homework, there is now knitting. That slaps.
So go on, float into the cosmos, you big fleshy orb. Watch out for wild credit card bills and rogue parking tickets (How are they giving you a parking ticket? You can BARELY drive. You avoid certain areas of town because you still can’t parallel park. You are a little tiny baby behind a steering wheel. How is no one getting this?)
You’ll meet others like you, others wearing running shoes without socks, hair unwashed, simply searching for meaning after being cut loose, often for the first time in their lives. You’ll grow, laugh, and fend off doubt together. Just remember that certainty is an endangered species out here. Also, there are ghosts.
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Isabelle Doyle is a junior editor at Noodle. She recently graduated from Brown University with a degree in English Literature.