The Summer After I Graduated College Without a Job
Sometimes life after college can feel like life going backwards. For many of us, graduating college means leaving the space and community where we started to finally establish who we were. For me, staying in my college town would have meant dishing out New York City rent while I was unemployed—surprisingly unaffordable.
So, I’m living back at home—if you can call it that. In some sense, it will always be home as long as my family is there and as long as it is the space of all the memories of growing up. But New York City is also home to me now — one I cultivated myself, surrounded by close friends and newfound interests. It is also a home chock-full of bizarre city denizens that I cannot shake from my identity (it is far too rare that I witness a stranger blaring a harmonica solo at a random child in my New Jersey home). How can I feel like myself away from such a special place?
These are the types of thoughts I’m learning to accept and move on from. New York will wait for me if a piece of my future belongs there. My memories of college are alive and well, but I do not need to continue residing in them. It’s so easy to feel stuck, feet lodged in drying cement, swishing your head from side to side looking at past, future, past, future, past, future. Time in university pushes you forward compulsively towards graduation. After graduation, the momentum ceases, and you are in full control of the next transition and any further movement.
Post-grad life is daunting, but I’ve learned that the key to coping is to create new measures of progress. The most obvious measure is how jobless you are on a scale of unemployed to employed. As the time for me to begin paying back my student loans draws ever nearer, this is certainly one of the focuses of my time and energy. However, this nothing or everything mentality can be discouraging. Tons of applications can be sent out with little success.
So I’ve looked to different forms of progress in my life to keep moving forward with optimism and clarity. And, sure, that job thing is important. But, for now, let’s look at some of the other ways that keep me from feeling stagnant.
I’ll begin with the most embarrassing and nerdy scale of progress, which is my rank in the online game League of Legends. There, I said it. You can judge me. But for me, games can be rewarding and are inherently about moving forward and completing objectives. Succeeding in the game can be a helpful form of encouragement for me when things go stale in the job area. When I leveled up to Platinum rank, I felt like I could take on the world, even if I didn’t get that dream job. Taking up a hobby or skill is a way to take advantage of the slowing down after college to discover something meaningful to you. For me, it’s videogames.
Sometimes, I feel like in my senior year of college, I was supposed to have a light bulb ding above my head and—WHAM—four years of material was supposed to coalesce into a career goal. It didn’t work like that. Things felt foggy and undetermined, but I took my concentration of studies for the ride and figured interactive media and game design were where I should stay headed. Immediately after graduating, I got caught up in the residual momentum of that idea—I guess I’m a game-designer-web-developer-tech-thing, right? These doubts have led me to make post-grad progress in the strangest of all things—my studies.
When you’re free from the requirements of your courses and major, you’re able to truly piece together the good and the bad of your education. The most valuable part of my unemployed free time has been figuring out what drew me to each of the courses in which I enrolled. It is a frightening process to find out that you want to cut away a bunch of skills or knowledge you spent time on, but the eventual outcome is freeing and motivating. My eureka moment has me on a new path that feels like it’s mine—like it’s right. The career area may not be exactly aligned with my degree, but I have a renewed confidence that is driving me forward.
Yes, I want a job—I need a job. I hope it’ll happen, and I hope I’ll enjoy it until I can get to a position in my new occupational focus. I’m more at ease, though, about perhaps not loving my first job after college. I have many other things in my life that keep me feeling like I am making progress. I have a momentum that is only moving forward with my permission—because I enjoy these things, because they matter to me. If you work at it, life after college doesn’t have to feel like life after a life.