How to Cope with the Impending Doom that Comes with Graduation

So it's your last semester of college. You've spent four long and expensive years working towards a piece of paper some like to call an undergraduate or bachelor's degree. You've passed the classes, you've gotten some experience, you've written the essays. The home stretch is filled with those last projects and papers and exams, and graduation day is the final thing you are waiting for. The ultimate endpoint. The final hoorah. But then what? Everyone you talk to within a five-mile radius asks you the same question over and over... what's next? Well if you're lucky, that company you interned for this semester wants to hire you for a fulltime position. But if you are anything like me, and tend to gravitate towards under-funded non-profits and events that have an ending time, nobody really has the money or position for you to become an employee. How can I think about what comes after graduation when my current life involves thinking about ways to re-word my thesis statement in order to fall asleep at night? 

Here's the reality: everything will be go-go-go until graduation day, and maybe even the day after when the high of finishing your undergraduate degree is still there. But then life kicks in and you realize there's nothing left to do. Suddenly you feel like you're wasting your time and that feeling of "I should be doing something right now" that is so common during the semester is still there, but you have nothing to fill the void with. Is it time to get a real adult job and jump into the world of nine to fives and coffee breaks? Should you start looking into graduation schools where you won't go broke within the first year? Does such a place even exist? Should you be taking the GRE or MCAT or LSAT? Should you be traveling the world and sleeping on stranger's couches or take up your old high school job checking people out at the grocery store? Although there is no right or wrong answer at this point in our lives, there are some healthy ways to deal with the existential crisis a lot of us graduates are about to experience. 

1. Take a deep breath. When you feel that uncertain panic rising, sit down and find a quiet place to just be with your thoughts and take lots of slow, deep breaths. Reflect on what is making you scared and ask yourself if there are any steps you can take right now to remedy it. If not, just know that things will sometimes be out of your control and that's okay. It's best to just focus on what you can do in the present moment than fretting about things that haven't happened yet. 

2. Create a LinkedIn profile. This one really helped me open up the possibilities of potential future job positions. As someone graduating with little to no idea what I want to do for my career, making a LinkedIn profile and searching open jobs helped me to realize that there are tons of opportunities out there and plenty of options to try out!

3. Start talking to people. Ask professors, parents, and anybody who already has lots of career experiences questions about their job journey and how they got to where they are. What was their undergraduate degree? What did they do after graduation? How did they figure out what they wanted to do? This is always not only super fascinating and a great way to meet and get to know people, but it gives you lots of real-life advice on what to expect at this stage in life.

4. Discover your values. One of the most helpful things I’ve ever learned in therapy was about identifying my values. Look up a list online of twenty or thirty values (examples are creativity, the environment, money, faith, peace, etc.) and narrow it down to about five. Once you can identify your five core values, you can use those to make important decisions in your life by asking if what you will do aligns with your values. This has been incredibly helpful to me in discovering what kinds of job positions would work best with me, my values, and basically align with my identity.

5. Remember you have time. I know there is a lot of pressure right now from peers, family, friends, and significant others to find and start a career, but we are still so young and there is so much time to dive into a career path for the next 40 years. It may seem like everyone around you is getting the biggest and best positions, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking the time to travel, or work at that cool coffee shop you really like. Now is the time to explore and do things you’ve never done before, and that doesn’t have to mean getting a big adult job right away!

[Photos courtesy of Pxhere