Symptoms can vary from:
1. A creeping feeling that something is wrong.
2. Finding yourself thinking that you have departed from the correct narrative. You are further surprised at this as you previously hadn't thought much about the concept of determinism.
3. Feeling that you have made a huge mistake, and you must act drastically soon.
4. Feeling that you’ve been left behind.
5. Experiencing timesickness – kind of like homesickness, but you find yourself missing a certain set of months long past.
6. Finding yourself travelling 106 miles after work, doing a 3.5 hour commute from the south of England to get to Cambridge, in time to dress up and pretend that you’re a pirate in front of a small audience for an hour, only to get up at 5am the next day to get to work on time.
Granted, that last one may be more specific to me.
Welcome friends, to the post-graduation crisis.
To those who haven’t graduated, be warned – you need not graduate at all to experience this crisis. It can happen to anyone who has lived in a university environment. It will probably happen to you.
I graduated some months ago now. It was bittersweet, but I was happy to get out. I didn’t have another year left in me.
At least that’s what my brain told me then. It’s been saying a lot of things recently.
After graduation, summer did that classic summer thing of ending. Now I find myself a solid month and a half into a ‘Job’. That’s when the post graduation crisis hit me
My personal terror is that the story ends like this – the movie is over, the credits roll. The best scenes have happened, now it’s a slow decline into middle age, receding hairlines, kids, mortgages, the common afflictions.
I have since used my spare time to; start a production company, scheme escape plans late into the night, and trying not to tear up at the Hamilton soundtrack while at my desk (but Hamilton, that would be enough).
I’m calling it a post-graduation crisis, because from what I’ve read, it is strikingly similar to a mid-life crisis, and I’d like to bet on the idea that I’ll live past 44.
The problematic thing with the post graduation crisis is that it’s a kind of existential angst – it forces us to consider those questions which we spend much of our lives trying to avoid. Questions like
“What should I do with my life?”
“What do I really value?”
“Is really the best thing I can do with myself?”
None of these questions have answers that are easily within reach. They're, you know, some of life's big questions.
It’s almost worse than a mid-life crisis, because we do not have nearly the amount of experience or resources to approach answering these questions. Furthermore, if we get the answers wrong we have much more time to lose.
At university, whatever you were doing, it was likely that getting a degree would almost certainly help you do whatever it was you decided to. Degrees help with getting jobs. Similarly you were probably having fun. Therefore, you weren’t wasting time in either a purposeful or fulfilling sense, ergo, no angst.
Now that you’ve graduated, you have an almost infinite amount of choices in your life, and no obvious metric for how you’re doing.
And, like I said previously, it’s not just those that graduated that experience this:
I recently had the pleasure of catching up with my friend Till who, perhaps appropriately, I hadn’t seen since graduation. He’d graduated doing History, and was now studying international relations in Paris. He’s much smarter than me, and when I discussed this with him, he put it roughly, the following way;
After graduating, the year of people generally splits into three groups:
You have those that stayed at university on a longer course, or who simply haven't finished yet, who are left with the feeling of ‘everyone else has moved on with their lives, I’m still here, what am I doing?’
Then you have those that stayed in academia but moved university who are left with the feeling of ‘should I have stayed where I was? Am I just trying to avoid a real job? What am I doing?’
And then you have those that graduated and are now working or unemployed, and regardless whether they’re enjoying themselves or not, they’re feeling ‘this is so different, I’m not sure this was the right choice, what am I doing?’
I think he’s right.
This is, of course, totally exacerbated by our generation of social media – it’s never been easier to have grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome, seeing apparent joy and peace in every facebook or Instagram photo you see of your friends.
Weeks prior, I casually messaged my friend Ed the following:
“Do you get bouts of existential angst about working in something that, in the grand scheme of things, is probably meaningless?”
And he replied “Yes, a lot”
And we talked.
This was reassuring, and made me feel better.
So if you’re at all feeling this way – waking up with existential angst, making grand life plans in your head or indeed just missing your friends, know this:
You’re not alone. You’ve got time to sort out your life – chances are it doesn’t need a dramatic overhaul anyway.
Breathe. We’ve got this.