A lot of the people I knew in high school and even before that expected to grow up and do fabulous things, myself included. For some people, “fabulous” meant making lots of money. For others, it meant getting married at 22 and having kids and staying in their hometown. There was the occasional person who thought they’d be famous, and then there were many of us who didn’t have any clear ideas about what we wanted to do, just that we hoped it would be meaningful.
I graduated from college in June. Yet I haven’t separated from the university–yet. I work in the library and every day I think how lucky I am to 1) have health insurance and 2) not be living with my parents. Since I’m still on campus, I get copies of the glossy alumni magazine and witness all the lush events the university hosts where they celebrate successful (which usually means wealthy) alums and ply said alums for donations.
I remember one article in particular from the alumni magazine in June, just before I graduated. It featured 10 “standout seniors” who the magazine predicted would hit it big. I hate to say this, but I know the #1 person on that list, and he currently plays guitar in a restaurant one night a week. I don’t know if he has any other source of income.
This brings me to my main point: Life immediately after college almost always sucks, yet no one seems to be willing to admit it. Well, here I am, telling you that at the end of every week I have a mini-breakdown. And it’s not just me. I know plenty of people who are just as disappointed as I am now that we’ve been untethered from something resembling stability.
I took a sociology class with a professor who tried to convince us that we had been institutionalized into playing the role of students, and he compared the university to a total institution like a prison or mental hospital. At the time, I thought this was a hyperbolic comparison. But the longer I’m out of school, the more I think he was right.
I’ve been in school since I was 5 years old. The MAJORITY OF MY LIFE has been spent in a classroom. Is it any wonder that I freak out when the classroom is taken away and I’m told to continue functioning? A wise friend told me that part of the reason I’m feeling so bad is that I no longer have homework. I no longer have deadlines that create meaning in my life. I don’t receive grades anymore. And I’m thinking hey, I did not one but TWO independent research projects while I was in college and doesn’t that mean I’m capable of setting my own goals? So for people whose primary ambition is to do really, really well in school, and that’s how they’ve been defined their whole lives–as a “smart kid”–then how the hell do they feel right now? ESPECIALLY if they’re living in their parents’ basement, or are waiting tables?
This probably explains why so many people go on to grad school despite the terrible job market for PhDs, especially in academia. We’re addicted to being students. And it’s how we were told to behave. Getting into a good college was the apex of many people’s lives. People who defined themselves as good students, that is.
So. This is why I’m not in grad school now. I get an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I think about applying. And it’s why I won’t be going to grad school next year, or maybe even the year after that, though I do want to get an advanced degree eventually. It’s because I need to learn how to function like a human after living for so many years like a student.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I still don’t feel discouraged. Entry-level jobs are scare, and the ones that are available aren’t great. Now, this is where some people will probably get offended, and let me reiterate that I am VERY LUCKY to have the job that I have. But after seeing our parents suffer for years in jobs that they hated, and in some cases succumb to depression because of those jobs, it is any wonder that millennials like myself hope for something more than that? If your job becomes who you are after you’re no longer a student, then damn, that job had better be good.
For now, I maintain my sanity by
complaining writing eloquent posts on the internet. Oh, and I’m also running again. And cooking. And getting enough sleep.
And you know what? That’s ok for now.