Updated: Mar 13
Graduating with a degree is no easy feat. Yet for many, navigating life after graduation is a harder process than the three years of study combined…
Having recently graduated from the University of Bristol in September of the strangest year in anyone's generation, I’ve found myself sorely missing university. Adjusting from my cosy routine of lectures, seminars, essay deadlines, library sessions, coffee runs, pub trips, night outs and hungover mornings, to my new routine of halfheartedly applying for jobs during a pandemic whilst living with my parents, has been a harsh transition. But perhaps hardest of all to adjust to is the loss of security that came with uni. For three years, my only concern was working hard enough to get good marks in my essays and eventually graduate with the best marks possible. Now, after all that build-up, I’m faced with a question that can strike fear into the heart of anyone waking up to a listless (literally) life infront of them...
“So. Now what?...”
Although graduating opens up doors to so many exciting opportunities, it also creates great insecurity – especially if you don’t know what you want to do yet, and are completely unprepared for life outside of school, college and more college. Students (including myself) often find out the hard way that success at school doesn’t translate into success in life or prepare them for navigating the working world as an adult. The good marks that we spent the majority of our lives striving towards failed to conjure up the confidence, networks, applications, interviews and opportunities necessary to secure the ‘dream job’. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness, fear and even loss of identity. Star student to aimless family member who now has the time to stack and empty the dishwasher.
The dream job . . . and the harsh reality
In my case, graduating didn’t even help me win a part-time waitressing job, let alone a sought-after grad scheme or internship. Yet all around me, everyone else had apparently landed on their feet. Every time I logged into LinkedIn and congratulated yet another friend who had landed an impressive role at a prestigious company, I was hit with a fresh wave of despair. I felt like a complete failure. Fearing rejection and feeling worthless outside of my 22 years of solid education, I began to withdraw. I stopped researching options and applying for jobs, and flat-out refused to engage with well-meaning questions from friends and family about my plans for the future. I spent a lot of time on social media...
Post-Graduation Stress Disorder Is a Real Thing
It's actually a relief to know that the despair that many graduates experience is now recognised by psychologists as Post Commencement Stress Disorder. Or, in our words, post-graduation stress disorder. It's got a name!
The psychologist Bernard Ruskin, explains: ‘‘Post Commencement Stress Disorder (PCSD) is a condition emerging from a diagnosis of symptoms affecting new graduates facing the task of choosing, changing or pursuing a career beyond the protective bubble provided by the traditional college campus". These pressures are only intensified by the current environment of heavy student debt, rampant graduate unemployment, a thriving AI industry, and an economic recession. Graduating in 2020 in the middle of a global pandemic was an extra challenge. The rite of passage and safety net of working or volunteering abroad was snatched away from us.
The Duvet of Despair
Symptoms of PCSD can range from feeling you are not in control of your life, feeling there's a lack of support for you, feelings of failure if you can't find work in your degree area, sleeplessness and irritability, and avoidance of normal, everyday activities. And these symptoms might not present themselves until some weeks or months after graduating. Which made me think. This is exactly when my family were starting to get a little jaded with me, and when my friends were not quite as excited about having me home . . . the triple whammy enveloped me like a massive duvet of despair. It all makes sense now!
I realised that I was stuck in a post-graduation rut. Whilst this may seem like a small step, opening up to someone and having an honest conversation about my problems helped me understand what I needed to do in order to avoid being consumed by the stress. So here are my 5 top tips to navigating the post-Uni void, and getting empowered!
Five Tips to beat the post-Uni void
1. Talk to someone. By sharing your problem, you halve the emotional burden. More specifically, you gain a new and more impartial perspective and you also remind yourself that you are not alone.
2. Voice your fears. Working out what you’re actually afraid of and physically putting that down in writing can help put things into perspective and make worries appear smaller. Read the book 'Feel the fear and do it anyway' by Susan Jeffers. It's a classic for a reason and if you think you're beyond any self-development stuff, well, that's probably a fear you need to confront anyway.
3. Avoid comparison. Comparing yourself with others and succumbing to toxic thinking patterns will only bring you down. Recognise that there isn't just one perfect graduate avatar to live up to, everyone has wildly different values and goals and time-frames.
4. Create routine. There’s huge power in doing something at the same time every day and creating healthy habits. For instance, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, eating regular meals, and taking regular daily exercise are all proven to boost productivity and improve your mental well-being. And there's a lot to be said for walking the dog before breakfast.
5. Plan in small chunks. Whilst it’s important to plan, having big, vague goals such as ‘get a job’ or ‘learn a language’ can be really panic-inducing and overwhelming. Instead, work out the necessary steps leading up to your overall goal and focus on ticking them off, one by one. Learn a language? Google best virtual programmes. Look up contacts abroad and sound them out. Check-in with the friends working as au pairs or placement years. Research which languages are useful in jobs you might work in.
So whilst this won't totally take away from your new post-Uni life being different, it's kept me sane, and it's kept me positive. We're all keen to find our place somewhere between snowflake and ice-maiden, and life after graduation is about finding what is revealed as the metaphorical snowscape of our student world melts around us. I’ve been following these 5 steps for the last few month now and not only am I more certain about the direction of my future… I’m also confident that I possess the tools now to keep moving forward, whatever snowballs life may decide to throw at me.
Lola graduated with a First in International Relations and is now working as a freelance digital content creator for the travel company CampInn Magazine.
Ella is a life coach, qualified in NLP and CBT, using an integrated positive pyschological approach to coaching. www.lifecoachingwithella.com 07597157194