The things about graduating nobody talks about

Grads Corner
01 June 2015 | Grads Corner | Guest Author

Jenny-MullinderI finished uni in June, and had my graduation ceremony last month. Over the four and a half months since I left the bubble of university life, I've had all the typical experiences. Looking for somewhere to live. Looking for a job, and getting a hundred rejection letters, or more likely no response at all.

Having to make the horrible decision to sign on at the job centre, and the resulting fun (not) appointments where I've seen countless ways the system doesn't help people, but also the few it does. Eventually, last month I managed to secure a temporary Christmas job at Boots, which lasts until Christmas Eve.

It's not perfect, very far from it, but it's something, and at this point I literally can't afford to be choosy. Amidst all of that, I've been hit with an emotional roller coaster of feelings about making my first steps into the 'real world'. Of course there's the usual anxiety about job applications, job interviews, first days at a new job. Then there's the existential crisis which many young people will be familiar with; where am I going, what am I doing with my life?

Underneath that though, I've been experiencing an overwhelming sense of loss, which I feel isn't talked about, but which I've learnt a lot of other graduates feel too. It's the loss of your carefree student days, no more staying up til 3am watching Netflix, then waking up mid afternoon and skipping morning lectures. It's the end of living in that bubble of university life, full of societies, and socials, and cheap drinks at the SU bar. To me, it's the end of being a 'young person' and the start of being a real adult.

There is no safety net of the university hardship fund if you run out of money, no student advice service, and no tutors to give you feedback on your essays. Now please don't think that I spent my university years drinking, spending my money, and staying up all night watching TV programmes. I did do that a little, but I also put in a lot of hard work. I came out of uni with a 2:1, I was assistant editor of the student magazine for a year, I ran for a sabbatical officer position, and I tried to be as active as possible around the uni. Added to the extensive volunteering experience I racked up before uni, with organisations like UK Youth Parliament, I should be on track to a great career path by now.

In reality I've been alternately paralysed by the fear of not know what I want to do, and scared to go for it. This is coupled with the sense that I've lost some part of myself, that somehow I am expected to be different, better, more. More mature, more sensible, more well read, more in the know. Trying to get a job when you feel like you're not even enough to be considered an 'adult', let alone a 'professional' seems impossible.

I should probably let you in to a secret; I am not in the standard graduate position, as I don't have any family who can help out if needed, there is no parental home I can move back to for a bit while I sort myself out. At times this can be a great motivator, I have no other options so I need to make my own life now. However over the last few months it has also added to my pile of worries. I know I'm not unique being in this position, far from it.

I also know my friends and peers who do have a support network still feel the same way I've been feeling; lost, stuck, and scared.

There is absolutely no discussion around the emotional and mental implications of leaving education, in education. We're told about CVs and cover letters, where to look to find the 'hidden' jobs, but not how to deal with feeling like the world has crumbled and we have to rebuild it.

To go with my earlier metaphor, the bubble has popped, and I'm still trying to get up from the ground. All through our lives as children and young people we are guided, told when to wake up, when to have lunch, when to go home. We're given set homework, and often grading criteria to follow, to ensure we do well. Real life isn't like that, and the adjustment period for some can be extremely difficult.

There are a host of websites, companies, apps, and articles with advice about the physical steps of job hunting, so why not have more on the mental transition? It's time for a shift in focus, from being all about academic and career success (which I'm not trying to undermine the importance of), to also looking at psychological fitness. I truly believe that it will pave the way for the jobs to follow.


Jenny is currently a Carers Project Worker at Wandsworth Carers' Centre. If you've enjoyed Jenny's post check out her blog - The Smile Diary - or follow her on Twitter @yourbookbegins

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