I graduated college nearly three years ago today. As much as that sentence terrifies me, since I’m still in denial about my age, I’m way less scared than I felt on that day in 2013. When I shook the dean’s hand and
walked stumbled (I got pretty aggressive at happy hour beforehand) off the stage, that was the last decision of my life that was clearly marked for me. From the moment I was born until the moment that diploma was in my hand, my life path was clearly laid out. I went to grade school, middle school, and then high school. There was never any question of whether I was going to go to college, but rather which one I would pick. I knew I wanted to major in advertising from the age of 14, and I stuck to that degree path my entire way through college. And then all of a sudden my path ended.
I had never thought about my plan after college outside of a vague “get a job and work my way up the ladder” plan and a belief that everything would work out. For the first time in my entire life, I began to feel immense stress and pressure. Not only was I losing the carefree lifestyle I had loved so much, but the path of my life was splitting into a million different routes, and I had no idea which to choose. Three years later, my life isn’t any clearer, and I’ve definitely chosen the wrong path a few times, but I’ve picked up a few tips to dealing with the anxiety of this limbo period along the way.
1. Always keep moving.
The real world is stressful. You have a job you have to go to every day, and perform well at every day. If you mess up, you could get fired. Even if you don’t mess up, you could get fired. If the economy messes up, you could get fired. And if you don’t have that job, you won’t be able to pay your bills. Important bills; like Spotify Premium, or Amazon Prime, or I guess your rent and shit. All that stress definitely weighs on you, whether you feel it all the time or not. That’s why you have to be a shark.
According to a Snapple cap I read in high school, if sharks stop moving, their gills can’t extract oxygen from the water and they die. They would literally suffocate in their own environment. People are the same way. When you reach that stage where you’re anxious and you don’t know what your next step should be, or the weight of all of your responsibilities seems too large to handle, just move forward and do one thing. Freaking out about your new beer belly? Go to the grocery store and buy vegetables. Got a client presentation that could decide your career? Just write the first opening line. The rest will come once you get the wheels moving.
2. Give yourself an out.
One of my biggest stressors is the feeling of being trapped. When you depend on your job to keep a roof over your head, it’s easy to feel caged into your lifestyle. I combat this by giving myself an exit strategy. This exit strategy doesn’t have to be a good one, or even remotely realistic, it just has to exist to let you know there’s a way out.
My personal strategy is that I can always move home with my parents, regroup, and start over. For those of you who don’t have that safety net, it can be something like “buy a one-way ticket to Australia and work at a bar to scrape by,” or even “rob a bank and live a life on the lam.” Like I said, it doesn’t have to be something you actually want to do, it should just exist to remind you that you have options. Just the idea of having a way out is enough to make me okay with the fact that I will hopefully never need it. Side note – this also works as relationship advice for those of us who are scared of commitment.
3. Use the 7/7/7 rule.
A lot of people assign the same amount of importance to everything that happens in their lives. I’ve watched friends freak out equally over being late to work and an illness in the family. Things are always going to go wrong in your (and everyone’s) life, and you have to be able to triage their importance and react appropriately. The 7/7/7 rule is just asking yourself if what you’re stressing about is going to matter in seven days, seven weeks, or seven months.
At our stage in life, 90% of the things that you’re worried about aren’t even going to crack the seven week mark, let alone seven months. Here’s some examples of real things I’ve watched people freak out about recently:
“I got ghosted by this douchebag after three dates that I thought were going well.” Sorry, but there’s no way you’re going to still care in 49 days. I’ve seen how many matches you’ve got on Bumble, you’ll be fine.
“I made a work mistake that cost my company thousands of dollars.” Not great, but unless you make a habit of it, this will have blown over before two months.
“I just realized I’m fat AF.” This is the only example that could make it past seven weeks to fix, but you’ll likely have it under control before seven months. Just take a breath, think about the actual long-term effects of your problem, and react appropriately. Stressing is hard work; don’t add it to your life unnecessarily.
4. Talk to someone.
I’m not ashamed to admit that in my first six months after graduation, I dealt with some anxiety/depression. I was working fifty hours a week just weeks after being able to wake up at noon every day, I had broken up with my long-term girlfriend, and I felt like I was losing the carefree person I had always been. I actually ended up going to the ER because I felt like I wasn’t able to breathe, and outright denied/yelled at the doctor’s when they told me it was a panic attack. “I don’t get stressed,” I thought, and “there’s no way this could just be in my head.”
After several more doctor appointments (because I’m stubborn and figured I had cancer, like WebMD was always telling me), I eventually agreed to see a therapist. If you’re struggling to deal with the postgrad limbo, I would highly recommend talking to a professional. They’re like a friend that has to listen to you because you’re paying them, and despite that awful comparison, they can be a huge help. Everyone needs someone to talk to, and your mom is probably tired of hearing you complain. .
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