I have to admit, this is a pretty tough post for me to write, but it’s super important!
If any of you have read my About Page, you might know I’m in a master’s program to become a marriage and family therapist. And as of this week, I’ve finished with my first year! I swear, I have never felt relief like I felt that day. At the end of last semester, I only got a week-long break. The semester before that, I was too busy crying about leaving West Chester to notice the schoolwork ended. And those semesters were undergrad anyway. Difficult, but my screams of anguish have reached an entirely new decibel in grad school.
The relief is amazing. But noticing my monstrous mood shift made me look back on this year and realize I was f*cking miserable. Of course, I had a lot going on. It was my first year living back at home after having four glorious years of freedom. I took on five graduate classes per semester (they recommend four) and maintained a full time job substitute teaching. Also, I tutored on the side and blogged in every spare minute.
I also had some beef with my new school. I miss West Chester enough, but this school is very small, which I was not used to, and religious, which I am not. Classes only seem to be offered when professors feel like teaching them, nobody answers emails in a timely fashion, everyone’s feathers get all ruffled when things aren’t done in the perfect order laid out for us. The professors don’t seem passionate about what they do, and they don’t encourage us to be. If we show any semblance of passion they’re like:
“That’s great that you’re so passionate, but it’s not going to be that [easy/fun/rewarding/insert happy word].
So like, it made sense to me that I was f*cking miserable.
It made sense that I was losing passion for the things I enjoyed doing. I didn’t want to get up in the morning, even to see my favorite kiddos at work. I didn’t want to go to class, even though I’ve never not loved learning. Seeing friends and going to bars stopped sounding like fun…there was even a span of several months this year where I didn’t talk to my best friend.
Yeah, Janis, it’s been pretty bleak. But then, I stumbled upon a book at Barnes and Noble called The Freshman Year of Life. I thumbed through it. It was a collection of essays that people had written about their first year after college. From what I saw, many of them were similar to mine. I didn’t get to read through the whole book, but I felt better knowing that what I had felt this year was a thing. It lifted one of the weights that was on me, one that was telling me I’d brought my depression on myself. It told me that the way I was feeling wasn’t a result of a poor decision to leave West Chester, or to go to my current school, or to not save enough money to live on my own. It’s just how most people feel after graduating from college.
It wasn’t my fault at all.
What I was feeling was just the space between what I had expected from my freshman year of life, and what I got. And it happens to almost everyone, because almost everyone makes a huge life adjustment after college. Whether you’re moving back with your parents, or making the switch from academia to the 9-5 life, OR BOTH, it’s an adjustment. And while it’s not my fault that I felt so sad this year, I made choices that made the shift more difficult than it had to be. So, I’ve compiled a list of things that I wish I had done to make my freshman year of life less shitty. That way, when YOUR freshman year of life rolls around, you can be more prepared to handle it with grace.
1. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
In undergrad, I was the president of a club, I did research for two different professors, I was a tutor, I got straight As, and went out every weekend. But honestly… that’s not the real world. As crazy as college seems, it’s actually a pretty structured environment. All your classes and meetings for school organizations operate around the same schedule (50 minute hours, 10 minutes for travel). You have an academic adviser. You likely have a counseling center on campus that you can visit for free, or a minimal fee if you’re feeling overwhelmed. The real world has no neat little blocks of perfect hours. There is no adviser to tell you you’re biting off more than you can chew. It costs a heck of a lot of money to go to counseling. So, start small, and if you’re comfortable with that work load, THEN take on more.
2. Don’t lose touch with your friends.
It’s really freakin’ hard to socialize in this “real world.” Like I said, I went through a period of months where I didn’t even talk to my best friend. There are no dorms packed full of potential friends here. I moved back home to New Jersey with my parents, and all of my friends stayed in Pennsylvania. I didn’t keep in touch with many friends from high school, because I was convinced that my college friends would be all I’d ever need. (WHY??) My neighbors here are cool and everything, but they’re middle aged and beyond. Not exactly a crowd to go to the bars with.
It’s also really hard to socialize because it’s not so easy to find things to do. In most places, it’s hard to find a row of frat houses or street full of trendy bars like you had at school. But please, invite your friends over for a wine night. Take turns paying for the Uber to get to the good bars. Those friends are going through a similar thing, and you need to lean on them.
3. Remember you’re not too good for dating apps.
Dating is hard all the time! But I have similar advice about this as I do about your general social life. It’s hard to come by one environment full of guys that are all around your age. Dating apps are exactly this. Of course, you need to be careful because these are internet strangers, but it can also be a lot of fun to meet new people this way! I’ve been on a lot of great Tinder dates that sparked some great friendships, and taught me about some cool new places in my area. If you’re not finding what you’re looking for at the bars and clubs in your area, check out some free dating apps like Tinder, Plenty of Fish, OK Cupid, and Happn.
4. Make time for your hobbies.
I love to crochet, but I haven’t touched my needle in over a year. I love to read, and the stack of books by my bed has been snowballing for months, but I haven’t touched them. Making time for my hobbies during my first semester in grad school seemed like a waste because I would’ve had to schedule them like my homework. And if I had to schedule them, I thought, they’d start to feel like work. But second semester, I started this blog, and even though it did make me busier, there were pockets of all my days that were fun and fulfilling. Set goals for your hobbies, so you’re reaching toward something whenever you do them. If you set a goal of reading five books so you can write a blog post about them, you won’t feel like you’re wasting valuable time.
5. Know that everyone is going through this.
Yeah, you have that one friend who went off to the city and found immediate success. I know someone who photographs high fashion models and seems to constantly be featured in magazines. I know someone else who has topped the singer/songwriter charts on iTunes. Two people in my graduating class from high school have been drafted to major league baseball teams. But like, it’s also totally fine to sit on your couch this weekend watching Gilmore Girls for the fifth time, and yes, it’s okay to eat that piece of popcorn that just fell in your shirt. It’s cool. The VAST majority of people are doing exactly what you’re doing. So don’t think about those crazy success stories too much– they’re the exception to the rule. You worry about you, and you’ll be just fine.
What was the freshman year of life like for you? What are your tips to getting through it? Drop your thoughts in the comment box below!