May 19, 2016

We’ll have Nothing to Show for the Most Important things We’ll Do: The Truth about Post-Grad Life.

jazbeck/ Flickr

It’s officially been two years since I graduated from college. I’m not sure how that happened.

Most days, I question if what I’m doing is what adults are “supposed” to be doing: working a few jobs in the city, not even thinking about settling down in a traditional sense (i.e. starting a family), searching for some things, letting go of others, asking existential questions pertaining to both personal and universal matters and trying to concoct some sort of purposeful career out of it all.

My guess is that most adults go for the “typical” nine to five lifestyle. And trust me, I’m not knocking it; in fact, sometimes I wish I could want that. (That is, if I am in fact an adult. Which, at 24 years old, I technically am…I guess. Kind of. Not really.)

But if I know one thing about myself, it’s that I couldn’t want that seemingly safer and more appealing and certainly more lucrative lifestyle if I tried. It’s just not me.

For two years now, I’ve whipped up different dreams for myself, some having everything to do with my undergraduate degree (which, to be clear, wasn’t for a “typical” line of work in the first place) and some steering clear of the whole thing altogether. I’ve dabbled in a little bit of here and there and elsewhere, finding successes and failures in every exploration. And while the details are important on a personal level, for the sake of avoiding a novel-length diary entry, let’s just leave it at this: it’s been a painful and intense and amazing two years of trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing.

*Spoiler alert!* I still don’t really know.

But here’s the thing: That feels surprisingly more okay now than it has ever felt before.

There are things no one tells graduates about becoming “real adults.” Perhaps the most important thing to mention is that we may or may not work in the field specific to our degrees once we’re released into the world.

They also don’t tell us that this is perfectly fine.

Given where we are from a societal standpoint, it’s far more acceptable now than it was even a generation back for us to take the time to “find ourselves” and do our thing accordingly. The need for freedom is on fire, taking our radars by storm and invoking us to follow and fan the flame to make it roar even bigger.

More of us are carving our own paths, etching out something more presently walkable to move past an older world with fewer options—and the fact of the matter is that there isn’t a degree for that.

I wish I’d known that before graduating: that the things I’d accomplish in learning about myself and what I could possibly mean to this world with regards to my purpose and my path couldn’t possibly be summarized on a sheet of paper (albeit an expensive one with a fancy border).

Still, there were many times I felt inadequate for not being able to pursue what I’d set out to do—that is, I felt ridiculously inept for even considering a release on the grip that held fast to a dream I may or may not have wanted anymore. I deemed myself worthless for failing to apply what I’d been given an opportunity to learn, guilty and ungrateful for seeming so wasteful in throwing it away.

I wish I’d known that none of it was true, because in reality, I didn’t waste a thing; if nothing else, this thought process alone made the entirety of my education worth the transition it inspired.

Why? Because it forced me to face myself. It beckoned me down a path to which I could have turned my back because it was so hard and trying and loaded with the unraveling of a plagued and manipulative ego. But I didn’t. I walked straight into it and…well, I survived. Somehow.

But I didn’t get a diploma for that. And as far as I know, I never will—nor will I ever need one.

I guess I wish I’d known that, too: that perhaps the moments in which we break the most ground never will and never could be encompassed by noting the achievement. We’ll have nothing to show for the most important things we’ll ever do; we’ll have only ourselves and the private knowledge of our own journeys.

But they’re not so quick to tell you those things. They want you to believe that you need that piece of paper, you need that achievement, you need that title—and on the surface, you do. You do need that certain piece of paper and that certain experience and that certain title in order to successfully (and legally) practice medicine, for example.

But things get a little more nebulous when confronting the idea that these pieces of paper and achievements and titles are treated as the sole means of defining who we are, because if/when we should change our minds, what do we know of ourselves outside of those papers and achievements and titles? How can we ride the waves of transition and roll with the punches of growing up if we only identify with the very things we’re changing?

They don’t tell you about that. They don’t tell you that you can and you will change in so many ways. That you’re allowed. That you must. That even if your overall goals and dreams remain intact, the ways you view and approach them will change. The processes will transform as your intentions fluctuate.

They don’t tell you that if some part of you—any part of you—questions or doubts what you’re doing even in the subtlest way, it’s for a reason. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to throw in the towel or run off to the next career path or life plan or blank space on the bucket list. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything at first, really. It’s just a signal that maybe it’s something to think about, a “what if” to ponder in a way that opens a door where there was once a wall.

And they don’t tell you that you’re more powerful than those walls. But you are. I know because in these two post-grad years I’ve spent wandering and seeking and finding and often failing, I’ve proven to myself that I am, too. And if I am, so are you.

I didn’t get an award for that realization; I just got from one step to the next—and some hard-earned clarity and relief and peace and renewed creativity and emboldened curiosity, among other things.

I simply uncovered and understood another layer of myself, inching that much closer to the core. You won’t find that accomplishment listed on my resume or posted to my Facebook page as a notable “life event” (although maybe we should start doing that…May 2016: Sara found herself! Give her a virtual high five!).

But that’s just it: They don’t tell you that the things you’ll achieve outside of institutional recognitions are the things that will shape your life—the things that will lead you to your center in a way that solidly keeps you there instead of prompting you to seek external means of finding your truth.

Those are things worth chasing simply because they’ll change you. They’ll bring you home to yourself—even if you’re not necessarily supported in taking that walk home, even if they say you’re odd or irresponsible or immature. You don’t need to explain yourself. If you’re taking the walk with your truest intentions, you have everything you need, with or without those pieces of paper and titles and achievements.

And maybe the most important thing they don’t tell you is that this is a lifelong process, that no matter how many years you find yourself post-grad, you always have the chance to question and explore and discover.

Don’t let them tell you otherwise.


Author: Sara Rodriguez

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: jazbeck / Flickr 

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