The process of transitioning out of university, and into the 'real world' can be incredibly frightening. It is perhaps the biggest life change to date; more extreme than leaving school because many of us are now leaving academia for ever. A world filled with relatively easy wins and a baseline of financial security is fast disappearing. Key advice: don't panic. You will find a job, you will make new friends and you will find your place in this world. Jo Boon offers a personal perspective on this period of transition, and some thoughts on how to cope with it.
Leaving university is extremely unsettling for many of us. We are faced with a period of suspension where everything has hit pause: waiting for grades, waiting for the confirmation email telling us we will in fact be graduating, waiting to find out about jobs, waiting to hear about places to live, waiting to find out what our friends will be doing... The list goes on.
It's important to remember that whilst most of us are apprehensive in some way, the exact source of this apprehension is as varied as the people experiencing it. Some people have loved every second of university, and will find it terrifying to leave their second family behind. Others, may have hated uni and cannot wait to see the back of it- leaving them wondering what the last three/ four years were all about. Most of us, I imagine, fall somewhere in between this spectrum.
As this chapter of our lives closes, we are presented with an opportunity for reflection on our time as a student: What would I have done differently? How do I feel about those I'll be graduating with? In what ways have I changed as a person? Reflecting on these questions can be helpful, but if you're looking for any kind of definitive answer, you're likely to only increase your anxiety.
Our feelings about uni will undoubtedly change as we grow and develop; remember that we're still very close to the experience so we're viewing everything through a lens of heightened emotion. Give yourself time to reflect on the experience as and when you choose to. Remember, this has 'only' been four years of your life. Right now, it might be the most important four years to date, but you have your entire life ahead of you.
At the moment four years is approximately a fifth of your life, but by the time you're forty it will only be a 10th and just one chapter in your book. So, whether you loved or hated uni, or feel somewhere in between, it is not the bedrock on which the rest of your life depends. It may be terrifying to think about facing everything that is yet to come, but it is also incredibly exciting. The choices we make now, the what 'if's', all the answers to the questions above are what will shape our future.
Inevitably, we will make wrong choices and need to backtrack or change direction. Life would be incredibly boring if it were all plain sailing; so embrace those mistakes, both those you look back on throughout uni, and the ones you have yet to make. I firmly believe that perfect happiness does not exist, so it's ok if the past isn't Utopian, or your future seems somewhat fragile at present.
Personally, I find great strength of mind in knowing that perfection and total happiness does not exist. In my experience, letting go of those impossible ideals leaves you free to live a life without as many frustrations, or a feeling that you are being hard done by. In fact, I am much happier without the expectation that I deserve, or am somehow owed, complete happiness. A peace of mind that is much needed in this uncertain time of transitioning between phases.
Of course, for those who know me, it will come as no surprise to know that what also helps me through these transitions is taking as much control as I can over the situation. In the days after my grad trip, I have organised, categorised and rearranged everything I have ever owned. This has been the mother of all clean outs, with neat piles for recycling, things to go to charity shops, and itemss that I will offer to family members or friends. If I can't control the future, I can damn well organise my past.
This strategy is not for everyone by any means, but I’m sure there are others out there for whom getting your life as ordered as possible is incredibly appealing. The other thing I’ve done to help with the post- uni transition is start a new blog. Cliched, I know. I’ll soon be handing Label more or less completely into the hands of others and, whilst that’s incredibly liberating, it’s also mildly terrifying.
I’ve started a blog called The Ethical Wardrobe, to write about leading an environmentally aware lifestyle, especially when it comes to fashion and beauty products. I honestly think the best way to find happiness and security for yourself, is to try and offer what you can to others. If you’re not striving for other people’s happiness or to do good in the world around you, I don't think you'll find any peace of mind for yourself.
Obviously, I mess up. All the time really. But the thing that grants me most happiness and security when looking back at uni, and planning my future, is to know that I did, and will continue to do, my best. It has not been enough for many, and I often fall short of my own standards, but I will continue to do my best. Whatever regrets lie in my past, or anxieties about my future I may have, I know I can ask no more of myself than to keep trying.