Sunday 10 July 2016

Navigating Limbo: Reflections on Life After Graduation

Rose talks about life after graduation, the uncertainty of life at that time, and how its ok to feel lost about what's to come in the future.

- Rose Liddell

After completing my undergraduate degree almost two years ago now, I embarked on a Masters degree which I finished in September last year. I’m really glad that I took my postgraduate qualification, but if I was brutally honest, part of me did it because I was afraid of the oncoming uncertainty, not knowing which direction my life would be headed. By doing a Masters, I thought that this would give me at least another year to try and figure things out. However, after I'd completed my Masters degree, I still found myself in a position of overwhelming uncertainty and anxiety about the future.

Part of me tried to view this transition optimistically. I tried to see this uncertainty as more of a wealth of possibilities, than a negative change. I could travel, continue with volunteering and have a bit of a break; I did not have to jump into a fully fledged career straight away. However, after being used to the structure of non-stop education for roughly 19 years and also because I like to plan ahead and be in control, I found it quite difficult to accept this change as a positive thing. Instead I felt pretty adrift and completely at a loss of what I should do.

Even so, I did not think this transition from university into adult life would affect me as much as it did. After applying for job after job and being rejected because I did not have as much experience in comparison to those who had been in working life longer, I felt more and more unhappy. I became demotivated and I noticed changes in my emotional and mental health too. I would get upset easily, argue with my parents, feel continuously stressed and anxious, and I felt trapped in my own home. When looking at Facebook, all of my friends who had graduated seemed to be further ahead than me, either they were engaged or married, or they had graduate level jobs. I started to think that there was something wrong with me, that I was perhaps not intelligent enough or charismatic enough to get anywhere, and with each rejection, my self-confidence plummeted.

A few things helped me get out of this rut that I found myself stuck in, and something that I really want to emphasise to anyone going through a similar limbo phase, is that this uncertainty is only TEMPORARY.
One thing that helped me was having a structure. With the help of a friend, I got a job in administration. Once I had that structure and some income, I applied for a mental health graduate scheme to pursue my passion and interest in mental health, where I would be working as a mental health social worker. Happily, I have obtained a place on the graduate scheme that I will be beginning soon, and it is something that I really want to do. Knowing that I have that lined up for me in the future has helped me to feel a lot calmer about trying different things and seeking new opportunities. I'm trying to be open and confident about trying new things now, and not to worry too much about making mistakes! I've tried to develop an attitude that adapts and embraces change and what it brings, instead of fighting it. 

The other thing that helps is being kind to yourself. When I wasn't working, taking any time out for myself even if it was 20 minutes of yoga made me feel guilty that I was procrastinating from job searching. But actually giving yourself that time is important. It's also important to acknowledge that it's ok to not know what you want, or where your career is headed. Not getting a job straight away is ok too, and it's not a bad reflection on you if you don't manage to get one job over another. For one thing, if you don't manage to get one opportunity, there will be others, perhaps more suited to your skills and experience. Secondly, in a world where getting gainful employment when you're fresh out of university is really hard and very competitive, it's perfectly ok to not get what you want straight away, getting something that gives you a bit of money but doesn't demand too much can free you up to gain experiences that you might want, like volunteering or travelling.

Be Kind To Yourself

The final thing I would say is ignore social media. Updates on social media tend to come when we are having our best days but rarely reflect our bad ones. It can be easy to get into the mind-set that everyone else is in a better position, but the truth is that everyone has their bad days and good days, missed opportunities and mistakes; the bad days are just not broadcast on social media. It’s always worth bearing that in mind when it's seeming that everyone is ahead of you. The reality is that they're probably not and if they are, it hasn't been a smooth journey.

So, I want to say to all those who are experiencing this or might experience this in the future, that you are not alone. Lots of us are either in the same position or have been, so if you know anyone who has gone through a similar situation and maybe has started doing something they really like, talk to them about their experiences and feel free to share yours. It's ok to tell someone that you're struggling, they may be able to offer some good advice as well as support! Starting out from university into adult life is difficult, but not impossible. So see it as a time where you can experiment and make mistakes and figure out what you really want. And if you find it a struggle at first to get paid work, don't give up. It doesn't mean that you are any less intelligent or any less wonderful, just persevere and be kind to yourself. 

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