April 15, 2013
Congratulations on graduating! Welcome to Purgatory.

The thing that no one tells you before you go to college is that not only will it provide you with a covetable education, it will also mould you into a better, well-rounded person and give you the opportunity to ease into the scalding hot tub that is being an adult one toe at a time.

The thing that no one tells you before you graduate college is a lot less reassuring. Namely, if you have not lined up a job before your final days of academia (i.e. if you majored in any branch of the humanities), you are in for a butt load of sitting around, probably at your parents’ house, fighting the urge to constantly shovel fistfuls of free food down your gullet and trying not to succumb to rampant feelings of loneliness and despair.

For those of you who can’t afford HBO to let “Girls” show you what life after college is like (especially for whiny, self-absorbed brats), I will do my best to elaborate. However, please keep in mind, your experience is unique and you may substitute marathons of “Psych” for alternatives such as “Law and Order,” “America’s Next Top Model” or “Murder, She Wrote.”

My post-graduation time began innocently enough. Being a serial busy body and extrovert with contrastingly hermitish tendencies, I often complained about never having time to do the things I really wanted to do during my college years, like read books, watch movies or have some alone time. But when I moved back home to figure out my life, I suddenly had all the free time in the world.

It was awesome.

Imagine my glee when with increasing speed I could work through all of the books I’d collected over the past three years. I also dedicated days to my Netflix account. On one occasion I watched four movies in one day, three movies the next and two movies on the third day all in an attempt to finally get through everything in my Instant Queue. I am proud to say I crossed off about ¾ of the titles and awarded the movies star ratings with the smug judgment of someone who would be really proud of themselves for completing the simple task of sitting and watching a movie.

At this point in my post-grad reverie, you may be thinking to yourself, “Where are all of this girl’s friends?” First of all, let me just assure you: I have friends. Really I do. But most of them were still in school or across the country or working. Honestly, my main barrier to society was wintertime in Wisconsin, my home state. I found myself trapped in a snowy solitude, not unlike Bon Iver recording his first record, and it gave me a lot of much needed “me time.” (Author’s note: I never actually use the phrase “me time” and neither should you.)

Then, suddenly, all of the existential literary classics I’d been reading and Wes Andersen movies I’d been watching got me thinking about the meaning of life and our purpose on this earth and I began to check my Facebook/Instagram/Twitter with increasing frequency to remind myself I am not alone in this world. And so it begins.

Once this awareness of loneliness occurs, there is no turning back and it will manifest itself in the strangest of places. For me, I became fully aware of it on a particularly cold day in January (I graduated in December). My mom and I were just hanging out and watching TV together when BOOM: Look at the time. I’ve been watching the Hallmark Channel for six consecutive hours without a complaint. My eyes haven’t even started bleeding, and I’m pretty sure my soul still exists. It’s now time to re-evaluate my life. 

Yet this cycle will more or less continue and you might find yourself eagerly waiting for your mom or dad to come home each night just so you can talk to someone. That is what it feels like to be a dog left at home alone all day, I’m certain. You can try to keep yourself busy, but if you can’t leave the house you’ll have to get creative in order to forget about the fact that you are completely alone. In my case, while my mom was gone during the day I caught up with some of my closest friends on the phone, did Pilates, took up sketching and passionately flung myself into a battle of woman v. food to resist the constant desire to not only eat ice cream, but to infuse the ice cream with brownies, put it into a giant bowl and introduce my body to the first stage of Type II diabetes. 

I swear I am a happy and healthy person under normal circumstances.

Even during what may be starting to sound like the deterioration of your mind and a life once bursting with possibility, rest assured there are still good days along with the bad ones. 

Sometimes you’ll experience bursts of creativity. If you’re a writer, during these bouts of solitude new story ideas will strike you at random. One day you might come up with a movie idea revolving around the lives of twin girls who accidentally witness an armed robbery and have to go into witness protection in Australia. And then you realize you’ve just recreated the plot to “Our Lips Are Sealed” starring Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen and your life spirals further down into the dark abyss of failure and inadequacy.

Ebbs and flows, man. Ebbs and flows.

You may now be thinking to yourself, “Holy fuck, I’m never leaving college. Sign me up for another victory lap!” Tut tut, I’m not finished. Don’t go abandoning hope for a meaningful future just yet. First of all, you might as well get this period of waiting and angst over with, because it will happen to you no matter what and it’s best to deal with it while you’re young and resilient. Also, I have this theory that the more degrees you have, the more likely you are to think entry-level positions are beneath you. Get over that one fast, because those are the only-level positions that will probably take you (unless you have some stacked connections).

So I’ve told you all about the depression and blues you will have to face should you go back home for any period of time during your job search, but how do you pull yourself out of this sludgy pool of wallowing?

1.     Well, for starters, never stop looking for something to do. Use this time to take up knitting. Or cooking. Or learning Photoshop. You finally have the time to fulfill any dreams left by the wayside during your pursuit of academia, so take advantage of it. You might even consider doing something really valuable with your free time, such as giving back to your community through volunteering. If your purity of heart can’t motivate you, keep in mind volunteering is an excellent opportunity to make new friends and even network at times.

2.     Find an excuse to get out of the house. I don’t care if it’s nothing but a simple trip to the grocery store to get ingredients for dinner; you need to reacquaint yourself with the outside world on a regular basis. Discover the wonder of walks, perhaps accompanied by the soothing sounds of a podcast in your ear. Going for walks is also a brilliant way of exploring your neighborhood. Better yet, you could go to a museum or a library—places often quite affordable (read: free) that you can visit with your non-existent income. And speaking of money…

3.     Get a job. Obviously this is what you’ve been looking for the entire time you’ve been sitting around at home, but I’m talking about a non-career job. Do the barista or waiter thing. Yes, they’re clichés for the young adult demographic, but they’re clichés for a reason. These jobs are effective ways to make money and guarantee social interaction while you figure out what the hell you want to do with your life.

4.     If you’re not in the place where you want to find your dream job, move. I recently packed up and settled in New York City, land of opportunity. It turns out the streets are more often paved with old gum, pigeon dung and refuse than gold, but it’s still got quite a bit of charm. Moving to a bigger city not only allows you to be present when you start getting calls for interviews, it also ensures you’ll have developed a prior understanding of the transport system so you won’t be late for said interviews. Bigger cities also have more to do on your average day, so there’s less chance to experience suffocating bouts of boredom. Another benefit: In a big city there will be many others seeking a career and to make friends like yourself—you’ll just have to be proactive and find ways to meet them.

5.     Suck it up. Yeah, you might blow through whatever money you’ve saved on your first two months of rent, but that’s why you got that entry-level service industry job to help keep you afloat in the interim. Life is hard sometimes, but for those of us fortunate enough to have obtained a tertiary education, a little struggling might not be such a bad thing. It forces you to find your passion because you finally decided it’s something worth striving for. You have to step out of your comfort zone. Hell, for me—having grown up in the Midwest—moving to New York has been a worthwhile experience if only for the exposure to the diversity it affords. You should have extended periods of time in your life where the room or subway car is not a blinding shade of white.

I realize some of you may now be cowering in your mascot apparel as you contemplate the temporarily dour future coming your way, and for this I am not sorry. Consider my melancholy story the tough-love prep your counselor and older friends never gave you. But also consider it a sign of hope. If I can bounce back from an entire day spent watching the Hallmark Original Series “The Good Witch’s Garden” while wearing sweat pants and feasting on cheesy potatoes, so can you. Godspeed, my friends. You will not be alone.