Graduating university, and the fear of growing up

Alexandra Koontz explores what it is like to be graduating form university.


Well, here we are. Another spring, another generation of kids getting ready  to graduate from university and go on  to… what exactly? For the first time in  our young lives, the next step has not  been predetermined for us.

“What do you want to be when  you grow up?” We’ve heard this  question our whole lives. It seems that  when you’re a child, all answers are  satisfactory. It’s the only time in your  life when you can say you want to be  a dinosaur, a ballerina, Darth Vader  or some hybrid of all three and all the  adults smile at you, validating your  curiosity in so many different areas. At some point as we grow up, that  question becomes a sort of litmus test  to measure your success as a growing adult. In high school, we were  are asked what our majors would be.  Strangely, we could only have one  answer. If we give a 10-word reply,  well intentioned adults would tell us that we couldn’t be an artist and an  engineer — we’d have to pick one.  The scrutiny seems even worse if you  want to go into a field deemed to be “unstable,” such as music, fi lm, acting, etc. And so the nights of anxiety  over the choice begins.

But why choose? Why are we  asked what we dream we could be,  but not ALL we could be?  The idea of narrowing down all  our potential skills and talents into  one area is greatly prized in our culture: this idea of a destiny, a purpose  in this life that will give us meaning  and define our time on this earth. But  not all of us are wired this way. Some  us have many different passions and  interests and committing to one career  path feels restrictive and daunting.  The truth is that not all of us can fi t  into this framework, and this mind set  only helps us feel like failures.  Emilie Wapnick, a career coach,  uses the term “multipotentialite” to  describe someone with many different interests and creative pursuits.  A “multipotentialite” will often find  themselves very interested in a certain  project or subject, explore it intensely,  and then move on to something else.  In our culture’s romanticized notion  of “one true calling,” this multifaceted approach to life and a career can  seem like a fault, a certain brand of  immaturity one needs to overcome or  grow out of.

Sure, in our early twenties, we’re considered to be biologically grown — it’s been hard accepting that this is as tall as I’ll ever be — but it certainly doesn’t mean we stop evolving. Humans are complex beings; why should our lives be reduced to one so called “calling”?  Fear of the future will tempt us to shackle ourselves to a well-worn, preapproved path. Which is not to say this is wrong, well-worn paths are such for a reason — they can lead to good places, security, and success.  But if you know that’s not for you, do yourself a favour and turn right around. If you came out of the womb wanting to be a doctor, do that — if you are a specialist at heart, specialize. The world needs skilled doctors, lawyers and businessmen. I do wonder, however, how many incredible directors, writers and artists the world missed out on because they are too busy hating their “secure” job as a financial analyst, something they were never wired to do but chose because it felt like a safe and respectable option.

Getting to a point where we accept both how we are wired and the uncertainty of the future is the hardest part.   A lot of us will experience a sort of depression following graduation. Julia  Frage, a psychologist based in San  Fransisco, who treats young adults,  says that “post grad depression is  under reported because graduation is  like motherhood: culturally seen as a  seemingly joyful time, which makes it  even more shameful for someone to  admit that it’s not.” Specific studies  about depression following graduation are hard to fi nd, as most studies  on the 18 24 age group focus on multi  ple causes of depression. It only takes  a ten second google search, however,  to find many personal accounts of the  struggle of transitioning out of the  years of a safe, supportive bubble that  was university.

During this complicated transition, the trap all of us risk falling  into is to compare ourselves on social  media. There will be that one person  who finds success relatively immediately, but they are the outlier. Most of us are in the same seemingly capsizing boat, frantically looking around  seeing how we are faring compared to  our peers.

Likely, we are trying to ascertain  this through social media. Recent research suggests that millennials have  the highest rates of anxiety and depression of any generation. Studies,  including one carried out by the  University of Pittsburgh, found an association between this anxiety and  social media use. This is hardly sur  prising; social media allows us to cu  rate the lives we want everyone else to  think we are  living. So don’t believe  everything you see online, and don’t  assume you’re the only one struggling. Remember no one lives full  time in an X Prof Filter.

Many of us at the end of this semester will be standing there, having  reached the end of university, staring  into the vast unknown that is supposed to be the rest of our adult lives.  We can’t expect ourselves to know  exactly what that will entail. There  will be many times in our lives where  we will need to re-evaluate and ask  ourselves “where am I going?” and “what am I doing?” I once read that  there are no stable jobs nor lives, but  stable people, and that stable people  are happy people.  It seems like the most important  questions to answer are “who am  I?” and “who do I want to be?” Once  we’ve got those two things figured  out, we can take it from there.  The future is undoubted  lee terrifying, but hey, we’ve  made it this far — we’ll be fine.


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