“Unlike many college students who entertain mixed emotions on their graduation day, I had the privilege of knowing exactly what I wanted to do next.”
Last week, I found myself scrolling through a senti grad photo blast. There seemed to be a format for each formal toga caption: the standard Thank you, I made it! Signed off with [name | year | course], validated by hundreds of likes with congratulatory comments. Ah, I thought. It’s that time of the year again.
As much as I was happy for my friends, I couldn’t bring myself to participate in the liking and commenting. All the congratulatory comments I drafted seemed insincere, so I never got around to pressing enter.
Just a year ago, I was in that same humid gym, happy smiles all around; no matter that we’re all sweating in our formal dresses and polo shirts. But now, looking at my lowerclassmen friends and their bright eyes so full of promise, I felt jaded.
It bothered me that I didn’t know why I couldn’t just be happy for them, and the reason presented itself in the form of a question: what have I done since my own graduation?
In my head, the success checklist consists of two basic things: 1) set a dream goal and 2) do everything you can to achieve it. Unlike many college students who entertain mixed emotions on their graduation day — relief because school’s out forever (!!), worry because they’d have to face the Real World and delve into unknown territory — I had the privilege of knowing exactly what I wanted to do next.
This I owed mainly to the so-called ~hustle~ life that I’d been living since the summer of my freshman year, when I interned at a then-emerging digital news organization. The opportunities pretty much snowballed from then. By junior year I was lucky enough to have fulfilled all the career-related goals I’d set for myself as a freshman.
Senior year was a blur, going with the flow and accepting every opportunity that came my way. Article due the same day as my History paper? No problem. Interview scheduled 30 minutes after my Philo class? Sure. If I wasn’t working on a paper or studying for a test, I was always busy writing for this and that publication.
Friends would tell me they envied my sureness, how I knew what I wanted to do. After graduating, I took a short break to avoid getting burned out. And so I spent a month living out the creative cliché: using all the money I’d saved up from my writing gigs, I went on a solo trip to New York with no particular end goal. I figured I’d learn to be more independent, spend time with relatives, maybe soak up all the creative energy I could to prepare for my first real job.
When I got back home, I picked up right where I left off. My life became all about content creation, of figuring out the pulse of the youth and all that jazz. I spent more energy thinking of what other people were interested in or what other people thought about certain things.
For a while, I thought I could do with less introspection. Keep things light and easy breezy. At one point, I found that I wouldn’t — or couldn’t — even write in my journal anymore. Personal essays were a burden to complete because of the amount of thinking I’d have to do, so I pitched less and less of them. (It took me ages to write this piece for that same reason). Eventually, I found myself in a slump.
I like to think of that time as the adjusting period. It’s funny because when I was in school, I couldn’t wait to leave. College was just a little milestone I needed to check off so I could get started doing the “important things”. What I didn’t account for was how taking classes encouraged me to think, to be critical. Without it I ended up slacking off without even realizing.
I don’t remember how many times I’ve scoffed whenever my parents tried to drill it in my head that learning doesn’t stop in the classroom. But now I realize that making a conscious effort to learn, no matter how trivial that might sound, is something that I forgot in my mad dash to achieve success and make my mark™ in the world. In my rush to enter the Real World, I forgot that spending time learning for yourself, whether it be through reading books, watching movies, gathering influences in general, is just as essential to personal growth as climbing up the food chain of your respective workplaces.
As it turns out, learning outside the classroom is way more fun. Without the structure, you get to do everything on your own terms without worrying about passing or failing.
One of my journal entries from early on in my /adjustment period/ reads “I need a new set of goals.” At the time, I wasn’t sure of what they were or how to get them. I don’t like considering it a problem because well, what’s a little identity crisis compared to the other worries of people my age? I’m doing what I love, with a roof over my head, and a family that supports my decisions. Other people aren’t as lucky.
For now, I guess I’m gonna stick it out. At least I know how I want to be moving forward. And as far as success checklists are concerned, at least I’ve got that down.
A note to fresh grads: Your experiences might not be 100% the same — everyone has their own struggles. No matter what you’re going through, I hope that you get to remember to set time for yourself too.