To be clear: I’m not talking about the mini-slump you fall into a few weeks after moving your tassel to the left and updating your LinkedIn profile to say “recent grad…” I’m talking about that weird, almost incessant gnawing of your gut that emerges a few years later—two, maybe three years post-tassel. It’s the feeling that makes you compulsively review your LinkedIn profile and/or online portfolios while mercilessly comparing them to anyone—and I do mean literally anyone who remotely falls into the same age category as yourself—else’s.
You go from, “Wow. Holy shit. Look at you go,” to “Ok, so you made your first million. Super,” to “What am I doing with my life? Where did I go wrong?” in zero to five profiles, until you’re sobbing incoherently (or internally, if this is an activity you’ve decided to pursue at work, making it all the more unbearable) about the uninspired, unimpressive human existence that is your life.
Post-grad depression is weird because the timing seems so irrelevant. There is no real trigger, no noticeable life event that led you to this bucket of tears and unfulfilled dreams that you’re drowning in. The feeling kind of just drifted in, like a warm breeze on a summer day, except this breeze turned into a category-five emotional hurricane and not only did you not have your shutters up, but you didn’t even know you needed them.
The first thing to note here is, obviously, you are not alone. Seriously. And secondly, the timing really wasn’t all that spontaneous. Post-grad depression—at least, as I’m defining it here—singles out twenty-somethings who’ve completed their higher education careers long enough ago that they are professionally stable but not long enough ago that they’ve cured world hunger like they vowed they would in college. And because we’re all so uncontrollably obsessed with immediacy, this realization is crippling.
The result is a whole lot of self-doubt and internal evaluation.
So here’s how to deal, because this is no way to live your life. It is 2016. Your downtime should be spent drinking (and instagramming) pink drinks while floating away from reality on a giant, inflatable pretzel.
1. Stop comparing yourself to others, especially on social media.
And yes! LinkedIn comparisons are just as bad if not worse than Facebook comparisons.
2. Creep and learn.
Because I know you’ve already memorized the millions of ways everyone else’s résumé outshines yours, now might be a good time to spruce yours up. Sometimes, it’s more about the “how” of what’s being presented than the actual content. Recall what it was about other profiles (aside from the important-sounding job titles and glamorous office locations) that really impressed you—maybe that person seems really awesome because of all of the charity work they’ve done, charity work that you’ve also done but neglected to include because you didn’t think it was relevant.
3. Assess and strategize.
Acknowledge that you’re being way too hard on yourself. Then when you’re of sound mind, give yourself an honest evaluation. Make a list of the things you’ve accomplished, things you’re proud of, things you know others find admirable. Spend some time with this list and be generous—this is no time for modesty or self-deprecation.
Next, note the things that are still on your to-do list, things that may even have been inspired by someone else’s professional accomplishments. The important thing here is that your list is still YOUR list. You should feel confident that the items on this list are things you are passionate about, things you’ll actually enjoy accomplishing. If you’ve abandoned a hobby in the last few years, now might be the perfect time to revisit it—or even take up a new hobby. You never know when a passion can turn into a promising career.
And, assuming the professional portfolios that you’ve been lusting after aren’t all elaborate fabrications, they prove, if nothing else, that it is possible to live the professional life you’ve always dreamed of.