Jun 8, 2009

Life after college...myths or reality?

Gradspot recently posted an article written by Kristen Fischer, author of Ramen Noodles, Rent and Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life, entitled Ten Myths About Life After College. In this, Fischer attempts to take the scary veneer off of The Real World by saying that all those horror stories you've heard about life after college are just that: stories.

The only problem? A lot of them aren't just stories.

I've personally experienced 7 of the 10 items listed here, and upon a cursory survey of other friends and acquaintances, it's pretty obvious that I'm not alone. Have I gone through a "quarter-life crisis" and mild depression since leaving college? Yes. Have I struggled to pay the rent, pay off my student loans, pay for food? Yes. Have I used my degree in my career or stayed in touch with my friends from college? No. Are my troubles just the result of a lack of a go-get-'em attitude? No. And I know plenty of others who have struggled with a lot of these things, too. The chances that you will be able to avoid all of these in your first few post-grad years? Um...not so good.

And it's not that I want to scare people or make people worry about their future. I just want to make it clear that the myths being debunked here aren't myths. They are very real situations, and they are happening to large numbers of people just out of college, just starting their careers. What I want people to realize is that not only do these things happen and happen regularly, if they happen to you (and it's likely at least some of them will), it's not the end of the world. A lot of people are going through the same thing, so you're not alone in what you're experiencing. Just because you struggle with some of these areas doesn't make you a failure or reflect badly upon you in any way. And just because you struggle with some of these now doesn't mean you always will. Things will get better.

A lot of these are useful, or even necessary, experiences to help you, well, grow up. A quarter-life crisis could help you to realign your career goals and move toward a more fulfilling life. Struggling to find a job can force you to improve your resume, your interview skills, and to increase your education or training for a given field. Moving home with mom and dad can be a smart temporary solution, which will save you a lot of money and leave you better prepared for the future. Losing touch with your old friends just means you will make new ones. And not being able to pay the bills can teach you some pretty serious budget skills that will be valuable for the rest of your life. And if you can't think of any other positives coming out of your current trial, at least it will teach you patience: this too shall pass.

Sometimes, knowing what is out there, knowing what you can expect is a good thing. You can make plans and adjust your expectations accordingly. Moreover, knowing that a lot of people are going through the same thing can take the scariness out of the situation. Denying that a lot of young people do go through these things and do struggle to overcome them isn't helpful, though.

You will probably struggle your first few years out. Money will be tight. Your job very well might stink. You may still not know what you want to be "when you grow up." These things are just a part of being in your 20s, though, and while, yeah, sometimes it sucks, this is stuff everyone goes through. It's stuff everyone needs to go through to figure out what they want, how to get it, and how to keep it.


  1. Only two of those were true for me, the friends one (which I think is okay...we move on in life) and not using your degree (I have two, but neither are at all relevant to my job). But I agree, these things are probably more likely to be true than not.

  2. I wonder what the impact of social media has been on this proliferation of the "Quarter-life Crisis". I think graduates ten or fifteen or twenty years ago probably had the same issues, but since there weren't a million different ways to collectively complain to each other and see those complaints legitimized, maybe it was easier to move on or away from it?
    Now, the internet and social media make our collective cynicsm and displeasure with our current situations so public, that maybe we've created this tub of negative muck that we're free to wallow in as soon as we can log into Facebook. Instead of when the tough-getting-going when the going-gets-tough, the tough just complain about it on Twitter. (And i'm not looking down on that behavior, i'm the worst offender...i'm just wondering if the communities we've created are giving us excuses to suck...)

  3. I guess I have a few thoughts on your comment, Adam. My first is that I don't know if complaining necessarily creates a barrier to "getting going." For some, I guess the complaints of others could be used as a justification for avoiding certain situations or taking on certain responsibilities, but I think for the most part, while we might complain, it doesn't stand to reason that we must wallow.

    The second is that I think sometimes our generation tends to assume that we're the first to discover fire. That is to say, because we have new venues to air our thoughts or frustrations, we assume no other generations had these thoughts or frustrations, too. 30 years ago, a 25-year-old man came home from work and complained about his job to his wife, or went out and had drinks with coworkers and complained about his job to them. Today, a 25-year-old man (in the more likely absence of a wife) is more likely to come home and tweet about it to a bevy of strangers on the internet. The scope of the community has changed, but I don't necessarily think that means the substance of the topics of concern have.

    My third has to do with the issues of options. We have a lot more of them today. I've talked a little about how previous generations had fewer options. The socially accepted options for a person were much narrower. Many of these social differences, like marrying and having children early, guaranteed that many would be locked into more or less permanent jobs at an earlier age. Because *everyone* did these things, because there were so few socially accepted opportunities outside of that path, it was harder to find other options if you were dissatisfied with your current situation. If people complained less (and I'm not sure they did) or if people waffled less, I think it's a much more obvious explanation that they did so because they just didn't have anything else to do.

    We take it for granted, I think, that everyone has always had the plethora of options that are available to us now. We have a lot of choices. A degree no longer locks us into a specific career, and working a couple of years in a certain job or industry doesn't lock us into 40 years of a specific career path. We don't have to marry or have children, which means we don't have to worry about stability or supporting others as much. I think because we have more options, we spend a lot more time weighing them and trying to decide whether different options are the best for us. I think for some it can become overwhelming and create stagnation.

    I'm not arguing that social media doesn't have an influence. I'm sure it does, in more way than one. I think it's also important though to understand that there is so much else that is different for our generation than it has been for previous generations, in terms of what is expected of us and what is "okay" in our society. It's a discussion that I feel has to be framed in broader terms.

  4. I'm at 6/10 myself. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one struggling with these quarterlife crisis-type issues.