How To Start Your Post-Grad Life (When It Feels Like You’re Already Behind)
In this week’s Ask Chelsea Anything, I’m talking to a soon-to-be graduate who is at the crossroads of several things, and the starting line of many big decisions. She is facing a lot of the scariest parts of young adulthood, things most of us have come up against at least once in life. And while the overwhelming life change of “oh-shit-I’m-about-to-enter-the-real-world” can feel insurmountable, if you take it piece by piece, I think we can all get through it.
As always, send your questions to email@example.com, and in the meantime, let’s get to this week’s answer!
In two months, I graduate from (a somewhat boastful and fancy liberal arts) college, where a lot of my fellow grads have been employed since the fall because they’re finance bros, my friends are jetting off to their impressive graduate programs or to medical school, and I have no clue what I’m doing.
I’ve been sending my resume off into the blackhole of adulthood with no luck so far and it’s starting to make me panic. While I do have the option to live with my dad when I graduate, I know that’s likely the worst decision for my mental health and general well-being, and would like to avoid that at all costs. But I’m just not sure how to go forth into the real world and make it for myself if I’m not having much luck on the job front. I am totally game to waitress or nanny or anything so I can make it on my own, but I (a) am unsure how to do that with minimal experience, and (b) don’t know how to do so without my family being “disappointed” in me that I’m not doing anything impressive.
I don’t know if there’s a specific question in any of that, but basically: help. Any and all advice would be incredible.
Olivia, your question feels very big on the surface, and is full of all the about-to-be-post-grad anxiety that everyone experiences around this time. That anxiety is what is taking each of these issues — relatively manageable on their own — and inflating/combining them into something enormous and terrifying. So to combat that anxiety, let’s start by breaking this down into its bite-sized parts.
First, you start this big question about yourself and your own life with what other people around you are doing. That is your biggest mistake, and what is making your own situation (you’re about to graduate from a great school with a great degree!) seem more like a source of shame than the source of pride it should be. Comparing yourself to others is always a bad idea, but at this particular time in your life, it’s downright toxic. There is nothing more dangerous when it’s time to start your adult life than worrying about how it looks, or how others might perceive it. You have to make the decisions right now that are right for you, and your specific needs, and not at all based on how it might look on Instagram, or how many likes it will get on Facebook.
Your friends with good jobs or grad school lined up have nothing to do with you and your life. (And by the way, grad school might seem incredibly impressive from your perspective, but think about the debt they’re likely taking on to do that. Grad school can be a great option, but it’s far from some perfect catch-all.)
To make this time in your life easier, I’d suggest getting off social media for a little while, maybe just for the summer, or until you’ve figured things out a bit more. It may seem extreme, but this is the time in your life where you are most vulnerable to the perception of others, and the insecurity that goes with it. If you can give yourself a little breathing room where you don’t have to be bombarded with other people’s life choices, or put all of yours out for public feedback, you’ll be much more likely to make the right choices for the right reasons. You’ll still see people of course, but hanging out one-on-one or actually picking up the phone to talk to someone is a much different, and healthier, experience than seeing a very filtered version of their life scroll before your eyes.
As far as your job and living situation, if you feel that moving back in with your father would be a very bad decision, mental health-wise, don’t do it. But that means you are going to have to make and stick to a very strict budget, live in an area that is affordable, get a roommate, and do all the other post-grad stuff that can be very tricky if you’ve never lived on your own before. Start by figuring out, roughly, how much money you’ll need to make each month to cover cost of living and modest savings — this means figuring out places you can afford to rent in, and how much a room there would be — and work backwards from there.
As graduation nears, you can start applying for jobs, and food service is a good place to work that has the potential for relatively high earning and flexible hours while you’re still getting your career into place. But keep in mind that waitressing is something you have to work up to, so if you can’t find a place that will let you do it with no experience (and you probably won’t be able to), another option is to start hostessing while doing some other job (like nannying or retail) on the side for the extra income. Some places that are more fast-casual/cafe than true formal restaurant will let you start as a server without experience, too, and that’s another way to get your foot in the door.
You can continue applying to career-oriented jobs through all of this, of course, but the important thing is to make sure you have a firm budget and that you can support yourself on it. Your parents might feel disappointed, but at this time in your life it is an absolute necessity that you say to yourself, on a regular basis, “Who cares?” Because no one else’s opinion of you is going to pay the bills, or put food on your table, or money in an emergency fund. You have to make your choices for you, and if that means spending your days in a service job and your evenings continuing to apply places and honing your skills in your industry (or learning a new one to add to your resume!), that’s what it means.
Whether it’s classmates on social media, or your own parents sounding disappointed over the phone, you have to let go of impressing them. It’s not your job to conform to what they want of you, it’s your job to create your own life and live it the way you need to. Fuck what they think, or what they’re doing. Get yours.
And in the meantime, stay off Instagram. Nothing good awaits you there.