By Ruby Samuels
For seniors like me, the end is near and so is the beginning.
The day that I graduated from elementary school, I remember feeling so accomplished, so much closer to being a writer or a full-time wild horse trainer or CIA agent or whatever else was on my mind at the time. I also remember, much more vividly, the crushing weight of realization that I would have to plod through 12 more years of schooling until that day of freedom, more years than I had been alive.
Now that day is quickly approaching, and it’s hard to know if I’m ready. I know that I am not alone. After all, there is now a diagnosis for the anxiety that comes with exiting the womb of academia into the vast wilderness of w2 forms and superintendents who won’t answer the phone when your pipes burst because you’re a woman. Psychologists are calling it PCSD (Post Commencement Stress Disorder) and whatever that new diagnosis says about the current economy, the current state of pop psychology or my “snowflake,” trigger-warned generation, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen PCSD living in the deadened, wine-scented faces of friends who graduated in the past few years. Here are the symptoms below:
Symptoms of PCSD
- Feeling you are not in control of your life
- Feeling a lack of support after commencement
- Feelings of failure if the new graduate is unable to find work in their area of specialty in a reasonable length of time
- Sleeplessness and irritability
- Avoidance of normal, everyday activities
Here are some basic concerns that I want to let all of you seniors out there know you are not alone in feeling, plus some solutions to help all of us feel a little bit better.
I have no marketable skills For those of us who majored in the humanities, what can we offer the world other than a semi-stimulating conversation about how EVERYTHING is a construct?
Not to worry. As liberal arts students, we’re taught to think critically and creatively and to write down our thoughts in a compelling way. We have also been taught to work really hard. These are marketable skills for almost every industry. Besides, most of what people learn about their field is learned on the job. What really matters is the $200,000 branded piece of paper that you walk away with, which your sociology professors taught you is a CONSTRUCT that you should take and use anyway because you “have to” to get most jobs.
I have burned all the bridges So you’ve had a few internships. You’ve fetched coffee and filled out excel spreadsheets and felt dead inside at the prospect of that being your life forever. So you didn’t really keep in touch. Or maybe you tried to keep in touch but didn’t get any response because adults have overflowing inboxes that are too important for over-anxious yet underwhelmed millennials.
Here’s the good news. Not every job requires a reference– I know plenty of young people who have found jobs through friends or family and never needed that former boss’s good word. But it is a good idea to keep in touch with professionals in the field that you are actually interested in. The key is persistence. Working adults really do have overflowing inboxes and it may take a few emails, each a few months apart, to get their attention. Keep it short and sweet. Ask them to meet you for coffee, to pick their brain, to get their advice, because they have been in your shoes and it’s always good to have footsteps to follow.
My long term relationship will fall apart in the real world This one is a killer. You’ve been in the steady, structured environment of a college for the entirety of your relationship. You’ve been the intellectual, the rock for your partner all this time and now you are facing a future in which you very well might transform into an unsexy, unemployed, self-loathing liberal arts grad.
Perhaps both of you are seniors and will have to face versions of yourselves and each other that are existentially flailing and depressed. Or perhaps you find jobs on opposite sides of the country and can’t handle long distance intimacy.
Stop right there. I may have these worries myself, but I have seen my partner through the post grad hell and dark depression that is student loan debt, misogynist and underpaid jobs and even unemployment. If anything, it has only made us stronger and is a never ending process of mutual support. If you and your partner can help each other realize that whatever happens in the immediate aftermath of graduation is not a measure of personal worth or potential, then your relationship will become invaluable to your ability to keep moving forward. And that is really all that you should be doing– moving forward, step by step.
I will become a corporate automaton I have been worried about this all my life. As silly as it sounds, my first ever, middle school paper was about Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond and transcendentalism’s wise decree to trade in the quiet desperation of material society for a cabin in the woods. I honestly don’t know what counts as corporate anymore because it seems as though most urban jobs involve being inside and in front of a computer for long periods of time. But being in an office most days doesn’t mean you’ll turn into an unfulfilled robot.
If you don’t mind being indoors all the time surrounded by paperwork at the bottom of a corporate ladder, good for you. But for the rest of us, there are ways to find some autonomy and even some opportunities to interact with a variety of people and places, and maybe even get outside, in your everyday work.
Think outside the box. Don’t think that just because you have this impressive degree, you have to go get a job in finance or at a top company in New York City. If you can afford it, move to a small town, walk dogs, bartend, nanny until you have a better idea of what kind of life you want to live and what career you want to spend your life with. Prove to yourself that you can survive without the help of your parents or an “elite” job, that you won’t starve just because you are unconventional. Don’t choose a career based on what your parents and striver friends tell you is a “good idea,” because you are your own person, and at the end of the day you need to know how to make yourself happy.