Post-grad life can be one of the most confusing, and frustrating, stages of your entire life. It’s the moment when you really have to get yourself together while facing the “real world” that you’ve been hearing about from your professors’ lectures for the last four years. This time of transition from student to full-fledged adult is tricky, emotional and difficult for anyone. In many ways, the stages that you will experience as a post-graduate will mirror the Kübler-Ross model of grief, commonly known as the “Five Stages of Grief.”
While you may not find yourself following this model of emotional stages in order, or your feelings may not be exemplified here exactly, it’s still a pretty accurate portrayal of what to expect after you clinch that diploma. Take it from me, a recent graduate and current expert on the frustrations of post-grad life.
As you approach your graduation date and participate in all of the necessary preparatory activities—ordering your cap and gown, picking up your chords, making a final advising appointment to make sure you’ve completed all requirements, applying for graduation from your school, etc.—the realization that you are actually done and preparing to leave what you have known for the last four years doesn’t hit you at first. While you know, rationally, that your time is coming to an end, emotionally you still feel like a student and cling to that identity maybe more than you did for the handful of years you were in college.
After you walk across the stage, collect your diploma, and shake the hands of those that were charged with the care of your education, the feeling of denial slowly begins to dissipate. This was the last step of your last semester, and as you say goodbye to the faces you’ve come to find familiar in all of your classes, the reality starts to set in. If you also need to move out of your college dorm or apartment, the stark emptiness of your personal space will finally shock you out of your denial; you are a college graduate and things will never be the same again.
“As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge,” says Julie Axelrod in “Psych Central.” This is the next step in coming to grips with the reality that you are shedding the student identity you held since your first day of Pre-K. If you have to move back in with your family following graduation, this can be a particularly powerful and damaging stage of the grief you may be feeling. Knowing the independence that you once had is now gone and living with a group of people—no matter how much you may love them—that you haven’t lived with in years, is bound to create some tension and result in forced readjustment of your livelihoods in order to get along.
In addition to the frustrations of transitioning to a different living environment, the absolutely shitty state of the job market for post-grad millennials is enough to intensify the anger you may already be feeling by tenfold. In order to gain your independence back, as well as put that expensive degree to good use, your task of finding a full-time job (hopefully with benefits) begins as soon as you leave school. Nothing can prepare you for the “entry-level positions” asking for two to three years work experience. Seriously, how are you supposed to have that much experience fresh out of college? Nevertheless, you persist, and hope that someone from the dozens of applied-to positions takes a chance on you.
The bargaining stage is a time of reflection and introspection. You wonder what you could have done to make yourself more desirable for the job market, wishing you had gone to those career fairs, maybe taken up an extra internship or two. If only you had done this or that, maybe you wouldn’t be pulling out your hair, eyes bulged at the fourth job rejection email of the week. You may even start contemplating going back to school to pursue that Master’s you thought about a few times; anything to return you back to that sweet college culture that you didn’t know you would miss until you left it.
At this point, you’re probably apt to make a few trips back to your college town to revel in the carefree lifestyle that some of your friends are still enjoying, if only to live vicariously through them. Attending a few more college games to cheer for the team you miss, hitting up those favorite dive bars off campus and maybe just hitting up the campus library because that was a great place to get shit done, are all ways of trying to reconcile the past-student-you and the now-transitory-you. You think maybe you can just move back and things will remain the same for the entirety of your life, but unfortunately, the real world will always call you, and it’s impossible to block that number.
Like a cold winter chill on a day you forgot your jacket at home, reality will have completely settled into your bones at some point, and that feeling is less than stellar. At this time, you have probably given up making trips back to your college town; it’s easier to be sad away from the place that gave you so much happiness. Job-searching weariness has worn you down so much that you don’t even want to crack open that computer to so much as look at another application that will most likely end in disappointment, not to mention the pain you feel going to that part-time job you probably secured in the meantime just to make some cash again.
This is when you are at your post-grad low. You start to accept the fact that you’ll be living in your parent’s basement forever. Yeah, you’re going to be that guy. Sleep until noon and let your mom cook your meals for you. When people ask about you, you say, “Really, I’m fine. Who needs ambitions and a fulfilling career anyway?” Like all stages, if you’re strong and determined enough, this too shall pass. You just have to push yourself out of the rut and crawl your way to a better place. Your parent’s basement—although true for some—is not your end destination.
One day you’ll wake up, and the world will seem better and brighter; you’ll find opportunity where all you once found was despair. This is your life now. You have come to grips with the fact that, unless you seek higher education or a career change many years down the road, you will never be a formal student again. But life is full of teaching moments that will turn you into a student for life, whether you like it or not. You are now fully ready to tackle the real world as an adult in transition. Bring on the job applications and interviews; you’re ready to get your life started.
While you may still feel nostalgic for the golden years of college, you won’t be lusting for the opportunity to return anytime soon. After all, nobody thinks that creepy alumnus that keeps hanging out at the college bars is cool, it’s actually kind of sad. You’re ready to close that chapter of your life, cherish it forever in your memory and take the skills that you learned throughout your time there and turn it into the foundation for a happy and successful life in your career and beyond. Even if you may not be there now, you’re going to kill it when the time comes. Be patient and keep working hard. The rewards will follow.