By Kacey Ingram
You’ve walked across the stage. You turned the tassel. The cheering and clapping begins from family friends, even yourself. And then suddenly it hits you: you’ve graduated! The sleepless nights writing papers, the parties and laughs with some of the best friends you’ll ever make, the agonizing over test scores and final grades is finally over. On to the next chapter of life. Here comes the chapter of making money, paying your own bills, and truly being the independent adult that you were so happily looking forward to being.
That is, until you realize the jobs you applied to haven’t gotten back to you, the fellowships you inquired about have passed the deadline date, and is grad school even an option?
And it all hits you: you really don’t have a plan. All this time you’ve spent in school, and yet a direct next step doesn’t exist. So, you try to hide the immense terror you feel for a few days by keeping up with friends, talking with family, or maybe even continuing to work a job that you were in previously. But that slowly begins to fade once you realize you’re nowhere near where you thought you should be after graduation.
And what might make it worse is seeing those colleagues on social media with awesome job opportunities, new homes and places in brand new cities, and even exciting offers to start school for a postgraduate degree. Not only can it be mentally exhausting trying to find stability in all of the post-graduation stress, but feeling like you are the only one falling behind makes the terror much greater. Maybe it’s the major you picked, or maybe you feel like you didn’t make the right connections while in school. Maybe you should have opened yourself to more experiences, or maybe you, too, can go to law/medical/graduate school with no second thought.
But guess what? You’re not alone.
Post-graduation blues are quite real. But they don’t begin after graduation. They usually start somewhere in the middle of our college years. It’s just easier to suppress the feelings of extreme anxiety or worry if we are surrounded by positive experiences. And that feels great, until you graduate. But why is no one talking about the post-graduation struggles that young adults are facing? Why do we rarely talk about the depression and anxiety that follows when you suddenly become unsure of the next step? And why is it that as young adults we are told to have it all together after graduation?
Here are some things to keep in mind as you continue on your 6th job interview, or as you scroll past Instagram for the third time today and see another pic of post-graduation greatness:
You are not alone
This might seem like the simplest of tips, but it’s the one we tend to forget. As we continue to talk to friends and scroll down social media, remember that there are still hundreds of people, like you, scrolling and hoping and still wondering where the next opportunity is coming from. Reach out to those people. Find an awesome group to stay connected with people in your field. A favorite of mine is a Facebook page titled “Black Ladies in Public Health.” This page has its awesome stories of women excelling, but it also has young women sharing their struggles and frustrations with job searching or even being in a job that does not meet their career goals. It keeps me level headed and also helps me remember that it’s okay to not be fully there just yet.
I don’t necessarily mean active as in exercise (unless of course that is helpful for you as well). But I mean active as in stay motivated and up-to-date. Yes, college is stressful and yes, it may feel like you’re in this endless day in and day out of doing nothing, but this is the time to up your skills or your craft. If you studied in a field such as journalism, find open forums or blogs and write in your free time to build a profile. If you studied public health or a health science, volunteer with your local clinic to gain connections, or to explore other career fields in which you may be qualified. Another important way to stay active is to read! There are so many things that college doesn't teach you about your field, and this free time can allow you to stay abreast of things going on in your field so that you don’t fall behind.
Take a Break
You might be thinking “I’ve BEEN on a break. I’m ready to adult now.” But, let me tell you from experience, once you start adulting, you don’t stop. So, take a break. Sleep in until 11 AM if you’d like, catch up on those good movies you missed, or even take some time to vacation if your bank account allows it. As millennials we are taught to look at free-time as being unproductive, but sometimes free-time gives us the space to create our own ideas, and to be productive in ways that boosts our well being. Take some time to relax, and truly create a space you’re most comfortable in.
Get Straight to the Point
This might seem unrelated, but I mean it when I say that in looking for a next step or career or for after graduation plans, get straight to the point. As a black woman, this was a tough concept for me to understand, because I did not want to come off as pushy or intrusive, but I soon realized that this was common in the professional world. Black women are less likely to ask for increases in pay, as well as promotions or even opportunities within the workforce because we do not want to overstep boundaries. This can sometimes leave us as the most educated in the room but severely underpaid or underserved. So, get straight to the point. I received my first “big girl” job by emailing the Executive Director of a women’s clinic directly, and when a job position became available, they did not post it. Instead, they emailed me directly and I was able to get straight into the interview process. I would have never found an opportunity like the one I’m in by continuous scrolls on Indeed (as I had been doing), but by simply getting straight to the point. Find a company or clinic or any place of your interest and start connecting with people directly. Not only does it indicate initiative, but if nothing is available within that location, they may be able to connect you with someone else who can better align you with a position. It also allows you to be placed in mind if something does open up in the future.
After all of this advice is said and done, the best thing for you to do is breathe. Don’t beat yourself up about things you cannot change nor control. You’ve just accomplished an incredible milestone, so celebrate yourself! Of course, people will have ideas and suggestions about how they think things should look for you, but if you can make it through 4+ years of school and survive, you’re headed in the right direction so far. Take a moment to capture everything in and just enjoy it, from the little things to the big things like getting that first job. Time is constantly moving, so take a moment to just breathe and enjoy where you are in life right now. The big job, the nice house, all of those things are coming, but with those things comes big responsibility. Enjoy the right now, the little things with friends, and the space you have to yourself.
I know these tips might not seem super direct, or maybe you were looking for more solid advice. However you choose to get through post-graduation blues, just remember that you are not alone. Someone was once in your shoes trying to figure it out, and they most likely still are! Don’t compare yourself to others, because your journey is completely different, and you have been assigned to a completely different task from someone else. Give yourself grace and space to grow and explore and find what really challenges you and gives you passion. Post-graduation blues don’t last always; the sun does eventually shine. But while you’re waiting, give it the best shot you’ve got.
Kacey Ingram, MPH is an education coordinator at a pregnancy resource center in Texas. She recently graduated with her Masters degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and received a Bachelors of Science in Health Promotion and Behavior at the University of Georgia. Her passion and purpose is to serve others to the best of her ability and in doing so allows her to give back to the kingdom of God! She is excited to be a part of this platform that allows her to share some of the knowledge she’s learned along the way! You can follow her on Twitter @kaceye_ .