Living in a "meritocracy" where hard work is supposed to equal success, leaving high school or college and entering the "real world" can require a certain amount of adjustment. We are expected to find our dream job immediately, move out of our family's house and be happy young adults.
But let's be real, not everyone actually lives (or wants to live) the American dream.
After having spent years in a system that facilitates a social network and community, that fills our days with purpose and goals, leaving school can feel lonely. For the first time, we are being asked to create the structure in our lives and build our own community. This requires patience and creativity. It means supporting and forgiving ourselves and others.
Confession time: I graduated from college about six months ago, and I am currently unemployed. And, as luck would have it, I'm not the only one. I've been conducting an informal survey of my friends on social media, and I've collected the following advice for caring for yourself, and transitioning out of school and into whatever comes next.
1. Fight the shame. I'm often embarrassed to tell other people that I'm still looking for a job, that I live with my family, that I'm not loving life and partying every night after I get off work from my high power job at my dream company. I try to remember that there is nothing to be ashamed of when you are doing your best with the situation life served you, and that comparing myself to others isn't useful either. Everyone works through this transition differently, and we need to honor that.
2. Success looks different for everyone. For some people, finding a well-paying job is a measure of their success. For others, being able to support their family is the most important goal out of school. Some people measure success by finding a long-term partner, others by raising their children the best they can. Figure out what your goals are in this moment and work towards them.
3. All families are different, and treat this transition differently. It is a very American, capitalist concept that the minute someone turns 18 years old, they are considered an adult and expected to support themselves. In many cultures, communities and families, living with your parents -- perhaps to care for them, perhaps for them to support you -- is totally normal. If your family allows you to continue living with them, and you feel comfortable doing so, don't let societal pressures make you ashamed of that.
4. Connect connect connect. Make every effort to connect with new people. No, I'm not just talking about connecting in the LinkedIn sense of the term. I mean making friends and building new relationships. After school, a lot of us find that we no longer live in the same area as many of the friends we had all those years, whether we or they moved away for school or jobs. It's time to invest in a new community, or add to the one you have.
5. Find new past times. Now that you don't have the structure of school for pursuing all of your interests, you've got to find that fulfillment in other ways. Talking to some of my friends, one of them noted that social media is where she has critical discussions on race and gender now that college is over. Another friend spends her free time volunteering with cool organizations. Look for dance classes near you, or maybe join a French conversation class. Maybe get together a group of friends to discuss topics you miss from school. I personally get my fulfillment by writing for this really cool blog and engaging with readers on Twitter.
6. Ask for support when you need it. Diving head first into a new living situation, area, or lifestyle can be difficult. But you're not the first to have done it. Talk to people who have been there before, and take their advice. When you need help or are down, confide in people you trust. Most importantly, support each other.