Here’s to the fresh grads tasked with the overbearing responsibility of navigating their life after graduation
What’s next after college? Frankly, I don’t know either. In the midst of celebrations and send-offs, no one really tells you how hard the post-grad spiral hits after you graduate.
People warn you about the gifted child-to-mediocre university student pipeline. I had my fair share, coming from a conservative high school where diligence and obedience were the only ingredients of the recipe for success. My first taste of culture shock was being a liberal arts student and discovering that everyone was so opinionated and eloquent. While I had nothing to bring to the table back then, I adapted and got over it anyway.
Having graduated two months ago, I was foolish to expect that I would experience the sweet taste of liberation after finishing a lifetime’s worth of studies. Would I not feel a smidge of relief after crossing the finish line of a well-awaited milestone? I point my finger at my high-performing, always-achieving attitude. Before I knew it, I was swallowed up by the internal pressure of having to find a job as soon as possible.
The smile of a graduate who doesn’t know what’s coming for her
There is no established timeline for the *right* time to start a job after graduating. Instead of providing comfort, the ambiguity takes over and metamorphoses into imploding pressure. If there is no deadline, then the time must be now. After updating my resume, CV and portfolio, I set out with the hopes of being able to update my LinkedIn profile with a full-time job title.
There seems to be nothing more formative yet soul-crushing than the act of looking for a job. The process has made me question whether I deserved to take up space once I realized that the workplaces that I once dreamt of never had room for me (a fresh grad) in the first place. The salaries are low, the job market is competitive, and the openings are ever-so lackluster.
Perhaps this is one reason why people pursue a Master’s degree. Unfortunately, I did not have it in me, both motivationally and financially, to put myself back in school.
I felt uneasy about being in charge of my life for the very first time. I could not rest in the fact that I had no label to attach to my name after having identified as a student (sometimes an intern or a part-time employee) for my whole life. I craved the comfort of living on autopilot and knowing what to expect. I had no thesis to defend, no paper to write, no final to prepare for.
For the first time, my struggles felt directionless. My problems were always concerned with how to make it through, but this was a different ballgame. As someone who isn’t pressured to become a breadwinner, this period felt like being in the purgatory of your twenties—being stuck in the middle without knowing where to go.
“This period felt like being in the purgatory of your twenties—being stuck in the middle without knowing where to go.”
When you had your life planned as a university student but know nothing as a fresh graduate
I felt paralyzed with the overbearing responsibility of steering my life in a direction that feels ever-so final. Life after graduation makes you question not only if you can achieve anything, but also what you want to achieve. Cue Barbie’s “But I’m not good enough for anything…” monologue. Not to be forgotten also is the waxing fear of becoming an adult that amounts to nothing.
Not one to slack off, my days were filled with doom scrolling on LinkedIn and endless applications to jobs that I wasn’t passionate about but were available, accompanied by the occasional interview where you pretend to be passionate about a job that pays minimum wage. With a somewhat decent track record, I thought I could do better, and I beat myself up for not living up to my unrealistic expectations.
In the pursuit to overcome identity loss, I left behind pieces that were already a part of me. To achieve my goal of attaching something to my name, I was willing to throw myself into things that didn’t align with me at all, just so that I could overcome this icky, pathetic feeling.
Truthfully, I lost a job offer that I had received before graduation that people (including me) dream of having, and I wouldn’t have entered this phase if things had worked out. However, this current chapter I’m in (my unemployment arc) has made me countlessly confront myself, and it has created a maturity in me that can only come from this experience.
Now I rest in the fact that great opportunities come as a result of hard work and timing. Life is a collaboration—you put in the effort and meet the universe halfway. The plight with identity loss dissipated once I realized that identity loss doesn’t exist because everything counts.
To the fresh graduate struggling with identity loss: your job (or lack thereof) doesn’t define you, and you never have to earn your identity. Your passion, your personal life, your leisure, and everything else matters! You are not defined by one thing. You are a summary of every little thing and people will see you for it! Your identity is you. Everything counts.
Photos Gwyneth King and Barbie (2023)
Words Gwyneth King
Art Macky Arquilla