“And I submit that this is what the real, no-shit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.”David Foster Wallace, This Is Water
If this quote doesn’t give you pause, we obviously are not the same. As I’m about to join the ranks of 1.5 million graduates with a Bachelor’s degree this year, my anxiety is unmistakable and palpable in many conversations that I have had with close friends over the past few weeks – all conveying an underlying fear (Will I ever see them again?). The range of emotions people experience when it comes to starting a new job can be immense. From adamant refusal (“I don’t even want to think about it.”) to moments where one realizes the reality of the situation (“We have to make work friends?”) all the way down to pure sorrow (“This means no more classes, and that’s heartbreaking!”).
Fortunately, I have no worries about landing a job because I am confident in my ability to succeed and stand out in the job market. On top of that, debt isn’t something that keeps me up at night due to generous help from Mom and Dad. To make matters even better, staying connected with friends doesn’t worry me as I’m sure we’ll find ways to see each other soon enough.
In stark contrast to the words I’ve heard my peers say, “The best years of my life are over, it’s all downhill after this,” I know that if university gave me the very best four years of my entire life, then something has gone terribly wrong. As a soon-to-be graduate filled with assurance in what is ahead and an understanding that apprehension still lingers within me, here are some of my own worries. Maybe other members from those 1.5 million graduating students will come to relate too.
Fear #1: Not living up to my own expectations
Despite the immense success I have achieved so far, worries about achieving something of meaningful significance still linger. Despite my parents’ reassurances that such a fear is unnecessary and ludicrous, their consolation implies that further successes are unavoidable: “Stop stressing about that, you’re going to be successful in whatever you do.” Yes, I think; however, what if my accomplishments aren’t noteworthy enough or don’t occur quickly enough? What if the substantial investment in my education is wasted with inaction on my part?
Advice: This ludicrous concept, expecting to matter to the entire world, is unattainable and unreasonable. Among other things, Virginia Woolf taught me that “the very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare.” It is the effort that matters most. Some accomplishments may seem bigger than others, but dwelling on whether or not you’ll make a massive impact in the world is an exercise in futility. John Green consistently explores this concept of “importance” throughout his books and ultimately advises readers to take comfort in knowing that “What matters to you defines your mattering.” The people we love, projects we feel passionate about and our individual encounters are what really empower us to become vital members of our universe.
Fear #2: No longer being in a place where learning is an ostensible goal.
My four years of college were filled with immense learning and growth, particularly because I was fortunate enough to major in Liberal Arts. Through reading Great Books and engaging in thought-provoking discussions with some of the smartest people I know, my education has been incredibly enriched. The most remarkable aspect is that this interdisciplinary atmosphere transcends across all majors here at the university; each conversation we have is a new adventure! Conversing with my intellectually-inclined friends in the early hours of the morning over delicious cheesy bread about topics ranging from personal identity to theology may no longer be part of my reality as I return home and begin a career within one specific industry.
Advice: Even though one may not be in a university setting, we can still remain curious and stimulated! The great Epictetus is an expert of understanding the power of control and positivity. In his book “The Art Of Living,” he stated that: “Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalized their contents.” The training weights are worthless unless we take what we’ve learned and put it into practice. We must carry on these conversations, make learning a clear objective in our lives, and continue striving for success.
Fear #3: A job with no definite end point.
This is a fear of mine I don’t often contemplate, but I’m certain other recent graduates feel the same. My jobs and internships have primarily been in publishing yet I found pleasure in attempting novel tasks and transitioning from one project to another. The four-month college terms with 10 week internships or summer positions between classes can cultivate an erratic type of thinking. Although it can be thrilling, the prospect of taking on a long-term job commitment may also seem daunting at first. When you don’t enjoy a class or course, there’s always an end in sight; however with your occupation if something isn’t quite right then it is up to you to find a resolution.
Advice: For college graduates, the beauty of having a job is that it likely won’t be as repetitive and mundane as you may think. Even if your task does involve doing one thing repeatedly, there’s no reason why we can’t strive to live life with intention – something wonderfully put forward by Henry David Thoreau in Walden:
“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”