‘No one is coming.”
That’s what an adjunct professor said to me and my peers during our first week of college undergrad. No one is coming to help with your job search. No one is coming to make sure you get home from the party. No one is coming to help you pass this class. No one is coming.
At 18, I let that ominous statement roll off my back. At least, I didn’t give it a second thought for a very long time. As it so happened, no one is coming became a sentiment that would exponentially take up space in my mind. For me, at 18, the statement seemed like a given. Of course, no one was coming. Over the next four years, I would become equipped with the skills that eradicated the need for some sort of job-giving hero. After all, wasn’t that what I was spending tens of thousands of dollars to learn?
49% OF COLLEGE STUDENTS FEEL
DOWN AFTER GRADUATION
— City Mental Health Alliance
Like so many other 20-somethings, upon graduation I was thrust into a landscape that was changing as I walked upon it. I had used my education to make plans, but those plans became futile, especially during a pandemic. Now, two years after graduating, my life looks nothing like I had imagined it would. There have been many periods where the future felt like something that was too dark to even contemplate.
I turned to social media to stay in touch with friends, but when I did, I was met with images that showcased a post-graduation life that aligned with the goals my peers had sought to achieve after receiving their diploma. I was living with my parents working in an industry I had no experience in, while my friends were getting their dream jobs and moving to big cities. My failure wasn’t just failure, it was isolation.
I’ve now come to realize, however, that I was never alone in feeling this way. In fact, a survey conducted by the City Mental Health Alliance found that 49% of college students feel down after graduation. Despite the celebratory nature of receiving a diploma, it brings on practical struggles that many young adults are facing for the first time. Entering the workforce brings a slew of financial stress on top of college loans, not to mention the grueling repetition of job rejections. The routine and support systems that have been built up around students are pulled out from under them as they attempt to grapple with the haunting question, “What next?”
For me, this is where things started to look up. If you can get to the point of asking yourself, “What’s next?” then you know that something is coming next.
My quarter-life crisis came with lots of tears, lots of questions, and lots of cursing myself for not choosing what I thought to be a more “straightforward” field, like education or health care. But this dilemma became exciting when I realized I could take all of the things that I loved learning during undergrad —storytelling, collaborating, problem solving, etc. — and utilize them in ways I hadn’t had time to previously entertain. And while I’m still not sure where I’m going next, I’ve overcome my quarter-life crisis by working hard, enjoying my surroundings, and letting the chips fall where they may.
So, if you, too, find yourself staring blankly at a computer screen for hours at a time thinking, “How did it end up like this?” here’s some advice, from one 20 something to another.
Life has no deadlines. When I was 22, I remember telling my therapist that life was over for me because I was “too old.” Too old to change my mind. Too old to learn something new. Too old to do better for myself. Looking back now, I see how silly that is. You’re never too old to do something new, but you’re certainly not too old when you’re too young to even rent a car.
When I looked around at the professionals I admire, all were in remarkably different places in their early 20s. Some found their calling in college and some are still searching. It doesn’t take away any of their value or experience. Life is full of detours; finding contentment is a matter of seeing those detours, not as wrong turns but as the scenic route.
SEE DETOURS NOT AS WRONG
TURNS BUT AS THE SCENIC ROUTE
What’s online is not reality. I hate to sound like a mom here, but it’s true. The friends who did that really awesome thing with those super cool people in that really beautiful place also have bad days. They’re also not always sure of themselves. They are, just like you and me, fully human. They have doubts and fears and insecurities, but they’re not necessarily going to share that on Instagram. Why would they?
Celebrate the happy moments that they’ve decided to share, but remember, there is always more to the story than meets the eye.
Your journey is your own. Another piece of wisdom that the same professor offered me was, “Your time is coming.” It’s so easy to see someone else’s success as your failure. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into more than once, but there’s simply no logic in it. The 18-year old who graduated from Harvard Law has no impact on your job search. The 24-year-old who started her own production company does not diminish your talent or hard work. When I finally understood that I don’t have to be a prodigy to be the main character, I realized that the movie of my life was just as valuable as anyone else’s.
So yes, it may be bad news that no one is coming.
The good news?
You’re the only person who gets to decide what happens next.