How Post-Grad Life is Going for Me
I used to worry that after graduating from college, my life would mirror The Graduate. Unemployed humanities major from a liberal arts school moves home, where everyone asks him what he's going to do with his life, to which he has no reply. Said unemployed humanities major falls into the deepest of existential crises, sleeps with his parents' older, married friend, then tries to find meaning in a spontaneous relationship, only to realize that it doesn't solve his problems. My greatest fear was that my life would look like that and that I would aimlessly drift forever, with no real purpose or passion.
So I was surprised that I felt ready to graduate by the time that May rolled around. I was burnt out. And I felt suffocated by the personal dramas of everyone surrounding me, even though I loved them dearly. People were anxious about grad school, or new jobs, or lack of a job. People were beginning and ending relationships—perhaps as last-ditch efforts to prioritize love (whether that was by admitting feelings or lack there-of). My body craved normalcy: a routine. I wanted to get up at the same time every morning, and go to sleep when I was tired, and eat when I felt hungry. I wanted to stop feeling guilty for spending time with my friends; for not being "productive" all the time.
Three days after commencement, my friend Kelsey and I embarked on a 10-day cross-country road trip, driving from Baltimore to Los Angeles. I am still processing the meaningfulness and magnitude of that trip, but will write about it someday. (Stay tuned?) The trip was cleansing, as I thought it would be, but not because it made me forget about my life. Being in new cities made me more fully understand how my life had converged to these moments, such that I could appreciate them with great clarity and awareness. For example, joining the school newspaper was how I met Kelsey, who would become one of my best friends (and co-driver for the road trip). Taking an English class on Atlantic slavery made it possible for me to appreciate the historical significance of the Southern historical places we visited. And going through a breakup junior year inspired me to plan a life-changing trip, which was why I suggested the road trip in the first place.
After crossing the country, I spent a month at home in California, and I used that time to really soak up summer properly. In high school and college, I always felt pressure to study, or work, or do something useful during the summer months. And not wanting to have any regrets, I decided that this was my last chance to really have a summer vacation. So I messaged old friends from middle school that I hadn't spoken to in ages. I went hiking and to the beach and to the mountains as often as I could. I ate at all my favorite restaurants, realizing now that many have closed and been replaced by newer, trendier joints. I watched movies with my dad; took my grandmother out to lunches; went to work with my mom. These are memories I'll cherish forever, because I was never preoccupied with other fears or worries during this time. I was simply focused on relishing every minute.
I do feel settled in post-grad life, to be honest. I've been working at my job for about two months, and I honestly love it. Perhaps I'll dive more in depth to my job in another post, but I work at The Atlantic which has been my dream publication for years. Every morning, I wake up and walk through Capitol Hill, admiring the colorful rowhouses and neatly kept front yards. I commute to work and enjoy the rhythms of working people boarding and exiting the metro in synch. And then I get to my office, where I get a cup of coffee with my coworkers before settling into my desk.
My whole life, I felt that I was fixated on going to college, to the extent that I didn't even know what to dream or wish for afterward. I wish I could tell my younger self, All of your hard work will pay off, so keep on plugging away. I wish I knew that there would be so much to look forward to after graduating from college. New inside jokes with new friends; warm night walks to the soundtrack of cicadas; Saturdays spent lounging by rooftop pools; Tuesdays evenings spent sipping wine and discussing classic literature; seeing the behind-the-scenes of a magazine.
There were many parts of college that I liked, but more often than not, I felt broken and crazy and messed up. I felt like everyone around me was finding success while I was still waiting on the sidelines. I felt like I was incapable of being loved and of being in a healthy relationship. I felt like no matter how hard I tried in school, in my internships, I would never be satisfied with my efforts. I felt like my mental health problems controlled me. I felt like life was a zero-sum game.
So this is what I want to tell college me: You will feel whole again. You will feel so brimming with happiness, you won't know that such joy was even possible for a person to experience. But it is. It completely is. You will fall in love again, but it will be with a group of people, one that radiates goodness and generosity. At the same time, you will look at familiar people in new ways, and you will be surprised by how much and how little changes. You will remember that this city was where you first dreamed of being a writer, back in the 6th grade, and that you should hold tightly to your dreams, because sometimes, if you're very lucky, they do come true.