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You're a College Grad, Now What? Part 1 | Dealing with the Post-Collegiate Blues

A woman looks out the window at  New York city.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in June 2019. If you're a 2020 grad, you've probably had a particularly bumpy ride in the last few months. Likewise, the road to getting your first post-college job might be especially unusual. But this timeless advice applies to the class of 2020—even though this post was written in pre-COVID times.

Congratulations future social impact maker—you’ve graduated! We are delighted that you’re on your way to becoming a member of the social impact community. You must be beaming with a sense of pride and satisfaction. Years of hard work have culminated in this moment. Welcome aboard!

Are you excited to begin exploring the job market? After I graduated, I remember “pounding the pavement” in a quest to find any job. With fresh copies of my dot-matrix printed resume in hand, I trudged through the streets of New York City in the sticky summer heat, visiting one employment agency after another. One agency insisted I find more “feminine” shoes before helping me secure interviews—can you imagine?

While I eagerly searched, I also remember feeling ambivalent—even sad—about the transition out of school and into the “real world.” One of the most fantastic phases of my life had come to an end. I was no longer a kid but, rather, a young adult with the societal expectations to comport myself as such.

It was borderline depressing.

Endings are hard and you are not alone

If you are experiencing post-collegiate blues, you are not alone. The feelings of sadness that accompany major life transitions can catch any of us off guard—particularly when they are juxtaposed against feelings of elation (like college graduation).

You’ve likely lived independently, away from the daily influence of your parents, for about four years. Much of your day-to-day existence has been on your terms (like sleeping and waking at odd hours or coming and going at your own discretion). But, at the same time, university has provided you with a bit of structure (like having to show up in class or report for work-study). You’ve towed the best of two worlds—you’ve been “independently-dependent.”

Now, as the end of the year approaches, you’re busy celebrating friendships and achievements. You’re comfortable where you are. Does everything have to change? Do you have to say goodbye to your school family (i.e. your friends) and follow your parents rules again? And, oh yeah, what about finding that job?

Who am I or who will I become?

You’ve spent the last several years engaged in self-exploration and personal growth and are now entering the phase where you begin to construct your adult identity. If college is the time to explore who you may become, now is the time to begin becoming who you will be. I imagine that’s an overwhelming thought (it certainly was for me).

The intensity of this transition may leave you feeling as if you’re being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the good night. If you’re feeling sad (and stressed) it’s especially challenging to dive headfirst into the serious business of burgeoning adulthood.

Why wasn’t there a “Coping With Life After College” class offered?

Excellent question—it would have been quite a useful course. Fortunately, I can outline the basics—a mini-course, if you will—below.

Coping With Life After College

Here is your mantra: Mourning a loss while maintaining momentum moving into your next stage of life is complicated.

Here are some strategies to help see you through:

  • Mourn your losses. Acknowledge your feelings of sadness—don’t try to squelch them. The more you resist, the harder it is to move forward.
  • Maintain Balance. I may have pounded the pavement but, my unfeminine shoes hurt, so I was forced to take breaks. Your mind is no different than my feet—it needs rest, too. Make time to be social with your friends (maybe even your college buddies?), go to a movie, read a good book that has nothing to do with any of this or a funny one that has everything to do with this.
  • Understand the difference between eustress (stress created by positive life transitions) and distress (stress created by negative life transitions). You graduated. That is hugely positive. Please remember: It’s normal to feel sad during a positive transition.

Pro-tip: If your sadness is prolonged, starts to interfere with your job search, or your quality of life, it is imperative to seek professional help. Period.

Accepting any kind of change often takes time. You’ve likely already learned this during previous life transitions. Be patient and please talk to us in the comments section if this post resonates for you. We here in your chosen community are excited to see who you will become as well as to help you get there!

About the Author | Jennifer Abcug, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist in New York City, where she specializes in women’s life transitions. Prior to this, she counseled patients and families at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Convinced the earth moved after reading Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” the question: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” has become a focal point of Jennifer’s practice.

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