I had lived an entire decade. I had been through heartbreak when he circled no at summer camp, attained intellectual success receiving elementary school honors, and experienced loss by death of goldfish- excuse me, Japenese Koi. At 11 years old I had seen it all. More than ready to be out of my tweens and into high school, I longed for the day when I could drive myself to the movies, and wander the mall without checking in with chaperones via walkie talkie.
Fast forward to 18, only after now having truly experiencing love, heartbreak, and death, was I prepared for what was really next…Loathing six hour school days I drifted off into thoughts of independence, roommate camaraderie and abstract theories I would develop in a college philosophy seminar. It would be like summer camp for adults, only better. After four years of exercising intellectual curiosity and living “independently” we would meet graduation with a fire burning in our stomach, ready to take on Corporate America. With a college experience behind us, we would storm through open doors and begin climatic new chapters.
We hunger for what’s next, because what’s next is always better than what’s now. We’ve watched the Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City enough times to prepare us for post-gradum. Rewarding careers, charming apartments, big cities, cosmopolitans…it is what’s “next”.
Six months out, I wonder… What happened to that fresh-faced working girl I envisioned stomping her Louboutins over cobblestone streets and pushing her Starbucks through the hustle and bustle of the Boston Financial District? Instead of feeling liberated, so many of us feel trapped. Have we trapped ourselves in the beginning part of the end?
Post-gradum has recently been described to me as, “the death of my soul”, “the end of the golden years”, and most eloquently put by my best friend, “The worst fucking thing ever.”
As we smiled big for the pictures and held our diplomas proudly at our chest we walked, (or in some cases stumbled) right off the commencement stage and into what can only be described as one of the shittiest economies in history. Our dream jobs were put on hold while we accepted positions that promised to build resumes and generate a steady paycheck to help pay for (take a deep breath) college loans.
“It’s called paying your dues”. My dad would say with about as much empathy as the rest of the world has for Casey Anthony’s personal well-being… I thought he said that about my unpaid internship, and the unpaid internship before that…
Trust me, we know. We learned to anticipate frustrating commutes, low-starting salaries, and rejection from potential employers. We perfected our resumes and fought hard through 3 tier-interviews to land that first job that many others did not. We welcomed anxiety in order to establish good impressions and to get a head-start on climbing the corporate ladder. It may not be our dream job but it’s progress.
Then why, if we were so prepared for this inevitable “Real-World” do so many of us still feel so…stuck.
Our “next” is now undefined, and we no-longer have a path to follow in order to get to the woods. We’re in the woods, and it’s pretty fucking dark, so we scramble to remember the things that make us feel comfortable.We reminisce about the past because it’s easy to edit and easy to love. The camaraderie of roommates, Tequila Popper Tuesdays, and weekends spent doing nothing but bonding with friends and dancing in our living rooms.
Was it fun? Absolutely. Were we happy? Yup. Were we truly proud of the people we’d become and our resulting character? O.K…Well….
You might say yes, because it’s easy. I’d say I came close, but no, the bleary-eyed college graduate I was on that May morning was not the optimal self I strive to be. This is not the end, it is freedom for the first time. Real freedom, as terrifying as it may be. Only now can we blaze a trail for ourselves. We can choose to stay and work hard, or we can lose ourselves in the memories of the past.
We are now free to truly earn and deserve. Free to feel the weight of the daily grind, the satisfaction of our paycheck, and the joy in unexpected moments. Only now can we truly appreciate the four years we had, and have the financial freedom to recreate it again on the weekends…and maybe even in Vegas. The footprints that our friends have left on our hearts will remain intact and rest assure when we see each other again, our bond will be just as strong…maybe even more now that we don’t share a bathroom.
The other night I watched my parents sit on the porch of their beautiful home sipping white wine watching the sunset over the meadow nearby. They broke their own rules that night, drinking wine on a Sunday night. I admired how they still looked at one another and how my mother shrieked with laughter at my father’s proposal to call in sick the following morning and spend the day up north walking the beach and soaking in the beautiful summer heat. There they sat, optimal selves and all basking in the calm, simple happiness of the lives that they built in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
No hype, no glitter, and definitely no Louboutins. It took time, but they built their careers. It took effort but they sustained friendships. They pursued passions and deservingly indulged on weekend getaways, vacations and parties. They worked hard to build a home and a loving family. The ups made the downs easier, and the downs made the ups sweeter, and they never once pressed pause.
This is what is next.
In the mean time, how do we stop feeling stuck? Remember that you’re making progress, and indulge along the way. These coming years will present opportunities that the last four did not. Moving into your first real apartment, traveling just because you can, and appreciating the fact you can sleep in an X if you want. (College or not, no one should be sleeping on a TwinXL.) Relish in the fact that you can’t predict what’s next, even when you think you can, and allow yourself to feel every bit of the ride. You won’t get these opportunities in ten years. The dream jobs will come, friendships will last, and rest assure the trip to Vegas will give our spring break junior year a run for its money. Embrace a new chapter, as uneasy as it may be, and storm don’t tip toe through open doors.
And as for the lazy days of fighting hangovers with laughter and friends? We’re 22 not dead…there’s always Sunday.