I don’t know if you’re a few months or years past your last semester, if you know someone who is or is about to be, if you’re a parent or friend or teenager wondering about all those big bad somedays, or if you’re a fresh spring-chicken-of-adulthood, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s all universal anyway.
There is a certain period of early adulthood that everybody goes through and nobody talks about. Rather: everybody talks about it, and they never stop talking about it, because nobody actually knows what they mean or why they’re struggling or how they feel or what to do.
It’s when you’re just finishing school or maybe even deciding you’re not going to start it again. It’s when you’re newly on your own and starting the next “phase,” the new chapter, the years you’ve been waiting and preparing and studying for. This is what everybody talks about without saying, what everybody grapples without seeing:
You are stepping out of structure.
This is the scariest thing, mostly because you probably won’t be able to identify it. But you’ll feel it.
The reality is that you were being validated about 30 times every two months while you were in school. You got an A, a pat on the back, a nod in class, a semester completed, a job secured, an internship landed, and you knew you did well. But you were just completing the obstacle course. Touching the cornerstones, being rewarded for what everybody else was doing too – but that didn’t matter yet. That never crossed your mind.
All you knew was that wherever you turned, you could mentally reaffirm your course of action through the (seemingly) universal approval of those who surrounded you. At the dinner table, at holiday parties, by peers, by parents. People accepted what you were doing as the ultimate “good.” And that is precisely what you just lost, or will lose soon, as we all will and do.
You lose routine. You lose the idea of what you “should” be doing, what’s good, right, true, best, great, successful – a wielding mindset that you’ve been carrying since childhood.
In this, you realize something important: that your mind can’t do the navigating anymore, and so you have to listen to something else. Your heart. Your gut. Your soul. Your spirit. Your instinct. All of these things which, in your utilization of said mind as your guiding force, have all but atrophied.
The scariest part of being a “grown up” is not that you have to make choices, but that you have to make your own choices.
The scariest part of feeling lost is not how you’ll get somewhere else, but realizing you don’t know where you want to land.
On the surface, it will just seem too simple. Your subconscious will beg you: Is this all there is? But you will ignore it, because you know that if you were to bring that emotional malady to anybody else they’d say: Travel! Go! Explore! Live! Love! You have your whole life ahead of you! Now’s the time!
That’s another thing you should know: we’re currently in the generational cycle wherein people only really value radical uprooting as “success.” (I think it’s some weird projection of what they wish they could do: throw off their jobs and families and responsibilities and run wildly to new countries and places and see the world not because they want to experience, but because they want to avoid.)
There’s a difference. Please know that there are two camps of people who passionately travel and never set roots anywhere, long before you blindly find yourself in the wrong one.
(There are also two camps of people who marry young, one because they are in the “oh-my-god-now-what” period, and the other because it’s right for them. It’s more important that you know this before you blindly find yourself in the wrong one as well.)
The point is that the real joy, the real art of living and being and being content is not usually manic. The “right” things are not just the “radical” things.
But you will doubt them, because you were promised that your dreams would be overwhelming, despite the fact that most people aren’t just “overwhelmed” and overcome and driven to do just one thing.
Most parts of life will feel quieter than you expected, and you’ll think there’s something wrong with them because you were trained only to respond to the loud, belligerent, overwhelming demands of your ego. Your soul doesn’t scream. Your true desires are small, peaceful whispers, not resounding, hysterical cries.
While you’re in the adjustment period, you’ll feel insecure about this. While you’re still fine-tuning your hearing, you’ll question. Because it does seem less secure. It does feel less than you were promised it would.
So, actually, let’s talk about what you were promised.
Your degree probably won’t prepare you for your life’s work. You now hold a piece of paper that says you completed the same coursework as every other applicant in the field. So what? The real difference is the and. And what.
Getting the job isn’t the hard part. Doing the work every day is the hard part.
You were told repeatedly that college was the best four years of your life, and then that real life is “hard.”
Do not adopt this way of thinking.
It will only lead you to believe that the best is behind you, that the “best” was getting drunk and living in a cement-walled shit hole and working all the time. Studying things you weren’t always interested in, living in close parameters with less than desirable acquaintances.
More importantly: that you cannot carry the freedoms and joys and fun and liveliness that you did feel during those years into your grown up life.
No, thinking this way leads you to believe that life is hard, and so you will make it hard for yourself.
There are challenges, there are opportunities for growth, there is trial and error, but technically speaking, things aren’t that hard. The world is more or less designed for idiots. You can Google anything. You can research everything.
There’s nothing you’ll have to do that millions of people dumber than you haven’t figured out. There’s nothing you’ll have to file for, create, apply to, make up or design that won’t come with literal user’s manuals or willing guides and teachers and countless, endless books and studies and journals and “how to” articles.
The only thing you have to question is the people who told you otherwise.
So let yourself not know which way is up. The people who do are usually following someone else’s path anyway. You will never have to search the far corners of the Earth for anything. What you want is inside you. The answer is in the same room as the question. You don’t need to be explosively passionate about just one thing. You just can be happy to be alive. In fact, the thing we crave most is rhythm and routine (it allows us to eliminate the fear of the unknown and more easily access ‘flow.’) The people who are happiest know that the soul needs no understanding or achievement or grandiose external circumstance. You were made for your daily human life. Not to transcend it, only what holds you back from really enjoying it. From really being in it.
Do not go on believing that your “purpose,” your grand, existential, god-given, divine-righted purpose can only be something that is feasibly materialistic. People can be your purpose. Love can be your purpose. Being can be your purpose. In fact, it is. The rest are details. The rest is noise. Radiations and sub-creations. Your core is ultimately the point.
Nobody ever knows “how.” If they’re lucky, they will only know “what.” Your mind doesn’t know and it never will. It doesn’t understand and it probably won’t. That’s a good thing. Because love doesn’t make sense. Joy doesn’t make sense. Nothing miraculous or beautiful or wonderful ever really does, so don’t sully it by trying.
You will always, somehow, have just enough. Money. People. Love. You will always have exactly what you need: when you don’t, you’ll act. You’ll change. That’s important to know. You are always being prepared for something greater or being shielded from something worse. That’s more important to know.
Don’t worry about what you appear to be. Worry about what you are. This is the last leg of your psychological development. Become the person you want to be for the next 60 years. Spend more time listening to your instincts than you do your fears.
You will grow up wildly, quickly, beautifully, stunningly. Things will come and go and pass and eventually you will learn what is true of us all: that we can only know what is before us, that the good and bad are always present in equal proportions, it is only our attention that changes, and our lens that expands and enlivens.
And that we’re all going to be okay. Not because things change, or because we’re all promised a bright and shining forever. Not because some random woman on the Internet told you so. But because it’s where we all eventually land no matter how we get there.
(Also: binge drinking stops being cute and starts being a problem at no point ever, it was never cool. If you do anything compulsively, there is a reason: find it. Let yourself feel everything. Don’t suppress your shit. Cooking is fun, try it. One glass of wine is more than enough at the company holiday party. Nobody is thinking about you as much as you are thinking about you. Stop dating the wrong people as soon as you know they are the wrong people. Wear comfy clothes no matter what. Call your parents. Seek a life partner who wants to stay not just because they are legally and financially bound to you. Forgive those paths you don’t understand. You’re not reconciling with them, you’re reconciling with yourself. Know that real intimacy is just being able to flow through your thoughts and feelings without judgment or choice of what you share. If you cannot do that with yourself, you aren’t ready to do it with someone else. You won’t care about what other people say unless they say something you know or fear at some level is true. Anything in life that is to be sustained is practice: peacefulness, love, relationships, groundedness, success. Buy good shoes. Buy better food. Always be open to the idea that you could be wrong. Don’t stress about what you “believe” in, you don’t need to “believe” in anything, you only need to trust what feels true in the moment. Eat green things. Read books. Take naps. Know that everything will pass: every body and moment and thought and feeling and life. Never get too bound to the nuance, and never let yourself be perpetually grasping at the joys because you can only see them just as they’re about to leave you.)