Post-Grad Panic: We Got Our Degrees, So Why Are We Depressed?
In the video of me graduating from college, I look pissed off. That’s not entirely accurate. As I walk across the stage – pre-fake-diploma-recieval – I’m fine. Happy even. But as soon as the dean of pseudo graduation ceremonies and I shake hands my expression turns. Stone cold bitch. As if I just crossed the threshold from carefree peaceful existence to the harsh climate of adult reality. Someone should really edit in the son from Parasite exclaiming, “It’s so metaphorical!”
So here I am. An adult. And honestly? Not loving it. It’s only been approximately seven seconds since I left the safety of college, but I want it back. I miss the strategic laziness. No one throws things to me anymore. Everyone sits in different places in the living room. It’s a fucking mess.
The worst part of the post-college crisis is its lack of originality. Oh you graduated and don’t know what to do with yourself? Congratulations! Welcome to the phase of life that every person lucky enough to receive a college education goes through. It makes the predicament very confusing. Am I so lost about where I’m supposed to exert my time and energy that it’s making me the most anxious and depressed I’ve ever been or did I just move from California to New York and forget what rain feels like?
Graduating from college without the physical motions of a senior year is like when Jenna wakes up in 13 Going on 30 and doesn’t know how to be an adult. Except this time no one’s paying me to run a high powered fashion magazine and none of my middle school friends grew up to look like Mark Ruffalo.
Whether it was buying four lokos from the sketchy deli in middle school or paying my water bill, I’ve always felt practices that mark maturation are sprinkled with performance. Like I’m playing pretend as a grownup. That is until the instances become habits and the habits become nature. The metamorphosis into adulthood is beautiful when it’s invisible. Monumental hallmarks of transition, on the other hand, are tense. They veil growing up as some kind of clear cut changeover instead of the process it really is.
This pandemic stole my patience. Having everything fun in the world disappear practically overnight really does a number on your ability to see things with perspective. I’m terrified of losing more time. Time doing what, I don’t even know. I’m nostalgic for experiences I haven’t even had yet. But how am I supposed to become some fabulous version of myself when I’m unemployed and paying $14 for a gin and tonic has become normalized?
A year ago I was avoiding taking the elevator with neighbors for my health. Now, I dodge neighbors so I don’t have to partake in the excruciating small talk of what I’m doing with myself. If one more adult tells me “It’s okay, take your time and figure it out,” I’m going to scream. Figuring it out doesn’t pay very well, guys.
I think old people’s idea of “figuring it out” exists in some kind of alternate universe where writing humiliating self-aggrandizing cover letters begging for jobs to be someone’s coffee bitch doesn’t exist (to anyone hiring, I will be the best coffee bitch you’ve ever seen). It lives in the cinematic fantasy world where relationships are born in montages and people travel by map.
Of course, being able to apply to jobs with the requirement of a Bachelor’s Degree is an advantage. Even so, American graduate school enrollment levels are steadily increasing, with projections showing no forecasts of change. This increase has permeated into workforce expectations. “Entry level” jobs are tattooed with 5+ years experience tags. Designing resumes has become a science. Not to mention, every recent grad searching for a job is competing with last year’s class and the millions of workers laid off during the pandemic. Screw you Andy Sachs. A million girls would kill for your job.
I know college isn’t just a gateway to employment. It teaches us all kinds of unmarketable skills like binge drinking and narcissism disguised as intellect. It gives you a pseudo reality where the whole population is young people and everyone has the next best blueprint for how to change the world or make a really sick app (sometimes it’s the same idea).
So what to do now. How to find the balance between 1. fixing a broken world white men before me used as a punching bag and 2. mitigating the capitalist brainwash that teaches me a meaningful life is the amassing of money and the stuff money buys. I know! I’ll go into a creative field. I heard there was a shortage of content.
It doesn’t help that all anyone tells me is that this is The. Best. Time. of. My. Life. The New York Times published an article about how 2021 is the “Summer of Love” in New York City. A new era where young people emerge from their pandemic shackles and take the metropolis by storm. My friend’s mom sent me an article the other day saying how jealous she was I was 22 and living in New York right now. I almost had a panic attack.
I don’t mean to be a brat. I whined when the world was shut down and now I’m whining when it’s finally opening back up. It’s just that it suddenly feels like everyone has decided everything is blissful and I didn’t have time to catch up. I naively thought that when the mRNAs were coursing through my bloodstream all of life’s other concerns would disappear, as well. The return to normalcy feels like life through new years eve colored glasses – overpriced, overcrowded and so. much. Pressure.
I don’t want to feel like this. I’m too young to be bitter. And too lucky. At the current prices, American higher education isn’t just a privilege, it’s an exorbitance. But maybe this system we’ve developed, where we tell kids that if they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on education they’re getting a golden ticket, isn’t without kinks. At least from where I’m sitting, where one too many of professors played Youtube videos I could have seen for free and called it a course, sometimes it feels like a scam.
College graduates entering the workforce are trained for a world that doesn’t exist anymore. For our parents, mainstream paths promised a job after school. There was a general belief that if you worked hard, you would get a couple promotions, maybe buy a house in between, and eventually save enough to comfortably retire. But this work-your-way-up prophecy has become more like a fantasy. A 2019 study from the (non-profit) think tank New America showed that millennials earn 20% less than baby boomers did at the same age. The gig economy has demolished a world of routine jobs promising benefits and 401Ks. The numbers are starting to catch up with the metrocratic capitalist deception.
I spent my college years scoffing at the idea of buying an econ degree. I looked down on the people around me headed off to 9-5s, sure they would be pulling their hair out from boredom within months. Minus the ignorant disdain, I still agree with that mindset in some sense. I don’t want to be a slave to a big corporation, spending five days every week waiting for the recess of the weekend to rescue me. My current desperation for some kind of employment has me eating my words, and they don’t taste great. This perception stems from the American ideology that graduating from college means I deserve that path, at least as an option. Spoiled? Yes. But the system is practically handing out minors in ignorance for us liberal arts princesses.
You know what’s a bad way to raise a generation? Nurture them with war, financial crisis after financial crisis, defunct spectacle police, and puritanism re-branded as wokeness. Throw some fascists in the white house, a little life-altering pandemic, and a virtual world where a performance of yourself is the going judgement rate. Give them the rhetoric to understand mental health issues but make the treatments addictive and unaffordable. Finally, provide them with platforms to speak their mind on anything and everything all of the time, tricking them into thinking yelling into the void will cause any tangible change.
So I’ll just be here. Taking my time. Figuring “it” out.