I had just finished the longest journey of my life, but I woke up the morning of May 18, 2009 feeling no different than the day before. Seventeen years of American education culminated with me sitting on a folding chair in a football field for three hours. During this time, I received not only inspiration and/or advice from a presumably important person, but the president of my university also gave me a leather document holder and shook my hand, which, through some sorcery, made me a college graduate.
The strangest part of graduation is the intangible but immediate shift from moving toward a defined goal to floating without direction or purpose. After a lifetime of structure and expectations, the change carries all the anxiety and paralysis of facing the unknown. Maybe this is why grad school is so appealing.
But I wasn’t going to grad school. The day after graduation, I was sitting on a couch, watching Into the Blue starring Paul Walker and Jessica Alba, blindly e-mailing my resume at random job postings on Craigslist. I had no idea what kind of work I’d be able to find with my shiny new English degree. Actually, I had no idea about a lot of things.
For starters, I didn’t know if I’d be able to get any job at all. If the tone of the media was any indication, I was entering the worst economic climate since the Ice Age. I barely knew where to start looking because I had no idea what I wanted my “career” to be. (I’d put that word in seven more quotes if I could.) I didn’t know logistical things: how I’d pay off my student loans, if I had to start filing taxes, or when I needed to apply for residency in my new state. I didn’t know social things: which friends I’d see again, how to meet people outside the college scene, or if my love life would become even more non-existent. And I didn’t know vague, big-picture things: whether career-mindedness was a satisfying way to go through life, if I had just wasted four years and thousands of dollars, or when these questions would go away and I’d feel just a little bit like an adult.
But I knew one thing: I wanted to live in Seattle. My school was about thirty miles away, and the big city always taunted me with its concerts, apartments, restaurants, and coffee shops. I had to do it right away, too, because if I moved home I might never make it back. But even this simple goal brimmed with uncertainty. I didn’t know where in Seattle I’d live, how I’d get by, who I’d know, or even what I would do with my car. I just kept telling myself, over and over, “I’m gonna move to Seattle and find a job.”
This statement was too uninformed to even call a plan; it was more like a mission statement. But it kept me grounded. I refused to dwell on all the things I didn’t know. Having conviction about my next step let me leave college feeling active, like I was determining my future rather than letting it happen to me. Then, thanks mostly to the real estate collapse, I quickly found an affordable apartment in a cool neighborhood—an early stroke of good luck that helped ease my anxieties and showed me a silver lining in all the prophecies of economic doom.
And everything worked out pretty well. I enjoy living in Seattle, in a comfortable little place right in the heart of the city. After a couple months of botched interviews and dashed hopes, a nice gig landed in my lap. My job isn’t exactly fun or exciting, but it vindicated my education and let me feel genuinely independent. I still don’t have answers to all the questions I started with, but one by one, as adulthood rolls along, they peel away and reveal themselves to be nothing worth fretting over. Of course, adulthood raises other questions I didn’t anticipate, but that’s okay. I like my life now, and I plan to continue liking it, even if I never quite figure it out.