So I graduated and couldn’t have been more proud of myself and my friends. It was a beautiful day and I was overflowing with pride and joy. This was a short lived joy.
Most people believed school was easy for me because I was one of the smarter kids (small flex, no biggie) but it was actually one of the hardest and most challenging things I have ever accomplished. It was a lot of hard work and I learned how to be a more productive, proactive, and disciplined person. Despite this, my transition into civilian life was not an easy one and continues to be an uphill battle.
Graduation parties and gifts came and passed and I tried to be an upstanding member of society. I was determined to get a not-so-great job that would be helpful to me in terms of experience as well as pay. I was determined to pay back every cent of my loans and go back to school in a year. It was going to flow beautifully.
What actually happened is that this hopefulness and determination began to fade a month in. I did not look at my student loan balance because it was pretty scary to think about. Instead, I went to the beach. A lot. I read most of the Game of Thrones series because it just had to be better than the show (the books are ALWAYS better than the show). I tried to have a great summer because it would be the last. Of course, no one ever said that, in reality, the last summer you get is really the junior year into senior year summer. So I blew the summer of opportunity and became a drunk beach rat to celebrate all the hard work that paid off in the form of a degree.
That’s not to say I wasn’t looking at the job market at all. I was, but I didn’t start to take it seriously until July. This means that my first job didn’t show up until August and it’s currently looking like getting a better job with better hours is a long way on the horizon.
If you’re reading this and you’re close to graduating, don’t do this. It was a lot of fun, but I also blew through a chunk of my graduation money ‘celebrating.’ I underestimated the qualifications needed for the jobs I really wanted, the cost of going back to school when you’re underemployed, and the difficulty of getting jobs within my range that had hours long enough for me to put some money away. I didn’t take into account that getting your own car and your own insurance would take such a hit. I didn’t think that paying your own phone bill or trying to move out and also trying to live a social life to maintain my sanity would be such a devastatingly large bill to pay every month. I forgot that loans, no matter the size, cost almost as much as that car insurance.
Trying to pay for life, save, and go back to school when you’re family isn’t supporting you (paying your bills, buying your clothes, covering your insurance, etc.) is pretty tough. My advice to you would be maybe remember that, especially if you’re trying to go back to school or continue your existence. Life is expensive as hell and I’m not alone. There are people my age working full time with a morning job and afternoon/ night job, living in their own apartment with a car to pay for, worrying about health insurance and birth control while also trying to stay out of the red on their credit card payments. They’re not supporting anyone but themselves and simply trying to stay afloat is increasingly difficult.
There are some of us who have known this life forever: they know that the grind never stops because the payments don’t stop. There are others who never knew it because their parents sheltered them from all of it, a kindness with a terrible awakening to come. Then there are people like me who sit in between, always conscious of life’s difficulties and being no stranger to grinding, but also desperately hoping it will all have a nice flow at some point: I’ll get my degree and get a kind-of-crappy job to pay off the loans while I go back to school or look for something better. We say to ourselves “yeah it’s tough out there, but I’m tough too.”
To kids coming out of school: take it seriously. If your family isn’t going to support your spongy broke ass once you’re 22, then get it together now. Work while you’re in school and actually save. Be creative with your skills and develop them more, maybe freelance them online. Do a minor! People mentioned these things to me but far too late and too vaguely. The only thing I was ever told was that “life is expensive and you have to work.”
A Bachelor’s might not cut it. A three month internship might help a bit, but most places want 1-5 years of experience. We live in an age where everyone needs to be better, smarter, faster, richer, and more well connected than the person next to them. Hell, everyone is in constant competition for everything. The wealth is so little and the expenses so large. We’re all running in a rat race trying to make our lives better and get a little bit more of the pie than the next guy. Of course it will get better than your early twenties, but these things don’t really change.
I don’t want to scare people. To be honest, I’m scared too. I feel the pressure from the moment I wake up until I fall asleep at night. I let it haunt my nights while I toss and turn. I worry about what’s going to happen next like I have five children and a spouse to support. I have been driving myself insane over it. I’m only writing this now because I feel isolated over it (this is what fear does to us). I feel like I’m alone in this fight because I sit around in my head all day brooding over what I should have done, how badly I regret some things, and how much better some drop outs are doing than I am right now.
This is ultimately pointless. I had a scare last month and I prayed/ meditated/ hoped against it. Aggressively so. I tried to connect with the universe and begged it not to happen. It made me realize that I have let my responsibilities cloud up over my ambitions. I have become lost in the “have-tos” and completely forgotten my privileges in the meantime. I am very privileged. Yes, I am underemployed, but that means that I am free from most mornings until most nights to do whatever it is I want. If I want to wallow in self pity and then drink all night, I totally can. I’m 23 and no one is stopping me from doing so. Alternatively, if I want to get up at 8AM and make coffee and go for a walk to clear my head; if I want to meditate for a half hour or do yoga or whatever to calm down, I can. If I want to get up and blast through as many job applications for any and every job that seems even slightly interesting or that I am slightly underqualified for, then I can. If I want to just take the day and read something, learn, go to some local office or the town hall and see what I can do, I can do that too. If I want to volunteer, join the Peace Corps, apply for schools I can’t even afford yet or at least ask about their programs, I can do that too. If I want sit here and blog about doing these things, well, here I am.
Many of us are lucky in that aspect, even if our families struggle, we have a home to live in and a way to get around (be it bus, cab, personal car, friends, etc.) Most of us are lucky enough to have just one singular person who is on our side and telling us that we can do anything if we just apply ourselves. For me, that has been some family, friends, faculty, and even strangers I came across while working. Sometimes I heard just one singular sentence from a customer/ client and I have never forgotten it. Small quips and comments can be powerful. On the hardest days, I forget that. On the better days, I write down inspirational/ motivational things to read later. I’m trying to be nicer to myself and instead of being so critical, I’m trying to be constructive.
So what’s my suggestion? What do we recent grads do now with our big sexy brains and skills we picked up being awesome students? How do we turn that into being awesome adults? It has to start with being mindful and constructive. We need to look at our strengths and weaknesses realistically. It sounds cheesy and you’ll hear it again and again, but be good to yourself. Wake up in the morning with the rest of the world. As a night person myself, that hasn’t been easy, but at a time in our lives where we need to be on top of things, we need to wake up when everyone else is waking up and start getting ahead that way. Make coffee or tea. Make your bed. Shower. Sit down and think about what you want to be, where you want to be, and then how you’re going to get there. All you have to do is get up and try, try, and try again. If you’re working at a really awful job that you hate, start concocting a way out. Basically, you can either be a man with a plan or a clown with a frown. I have often fallen into the clown state and honestly its sad, embarrassing, and unproductive. Living means doing. It is a state of activity. Its also hard as f**k. Majority of people have super hard lives but this is the one we have and we have to make something of it. So start with a plan. Don’t be too hard on yourself, just be realistic. Face it head on. Just get up and try.
I have realized that life is a constant uphill battle. It’s not evil or terrible or perfect and good, it just is. Everything else is what we put into it. Obstacles will show up again and again. We just need to keep getting up and keep trying different things.