Seeking clarity amid uncertainty

I’ve recently graduated (with an undergrad degree in Business Administration) and I’ve opted to take a gap year. Three years ago, if someone would have told me that this was what my life post university would look like, I would have laughed at them.

I’ve come to discover that I, like most people, am most comfortable in a structured environment, by which I mean one where there is clarity regarding what you are meant to do, something ongoing, and secure for at least a few years at a time. Fortunately for me, the secure environment I was in was also one I loved. I enjoyed being a student. Looking back, it obviously largely had to do with the fact that the responsibilities were limited, my finances were taken care of, and let’s face it, I was living by the ‘young, wild and free!’ motto. And in that environment, I thrived. I made sure I was part of all the activities. I’m naturally outgoing so it wasn’t hard to participate and get involved. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t have a student meeting, or an event, or a club activity, or anything really. A couple of friends and I managed to start an organization that catered to providing education, related to sanitation, and menstruation, to the BOP market. Along with all the extracurricular stuff I was engaging in, I managed to keep my grades up and had a pretty darn good GPA. I thought (wrongly) that I was on the path to success.

I was doing everything I could be doing, I was building what I perceived to be a strong profile, and I thought I was definitely going to be able to achieve great things. In retrospect, I was quite naive.

So during the last semester of my senior year in college, I was recruited by a research firm. I can vividly describe to you the sense of relief that washed over me when I received the offer letter. This meant that I had something tangible, and secure to look forward to and be a part of post college, for at least a few years before I decided to pursue my masters. Interestingly, I only applied to this place because it was in the same city as where my parents lived (So I’d be able to stay with them), and I didn’t consider whether the job I’d be doing was one I’d enjoy. I was a business grad getting into the field of primary research, not once did I wonder about the possibility of disliking it. In fact, it was the last thing I’d imagine would happen.

Oh boy, was I mistaken.

I’d exited college with a sense of accomplishment, excitement, and determination. All three of these emotions starkly different to the ones I’ve been experiencing offlate, those primarily being anxiety, hopelessness, and the sense of failure.

My structured year-long work plan went for a toss. I despised the work and turned into a perpetually grumpy person nobody wanted to talk to because of my tendency to crib. I remember thinking to myself — ‘But I’d done so much in university! I was one of the best students for crying out loud! Why have I been sentenced to work that neither matches my personality, nor is providing much value addition?’ Honestly, it was my doing. My lack of research about the job, the expectations I held (which were admittedly high), and the fact that I chose convenience and security over experimentation was to blame for this. So after a month of working there, I quit. I simply couldn’t take it anymore. Thankfully, I have supportive parents, so it wasn’t too difficult a decision to make. What was difficult however, was what followed.

One thing is for certain, because of how my experience with my first job panned out, I have a new induced fear of jobs. For the first month after I quit, I felt uneasy and uncomfortable looking at work-spaces, people in office directed formal attire, the thought of 9–6 work timings. Jeez, I hated thinking about all of it. And you know what it did? It brought an onslaught of negativity. How would I ever be able to work again? Will I dislike all the jobs I’ll get henceforth? Is my degree even worth anything, I mean I’m not a doctor or an engineer so there’s no single profession it leads to. What if this fear doesn’t get me employed anywhere? What if I chose the wrong thing to study? What if I can’t sustain myself in the future? I’m a humongous burden to my parents, what if I don’t manage to do anything useful?

I was caught in a vicious cycle of self-doubt and anxiety. The feeling that I have failed and let everyone down was amplified when I saw classmates, and friends of mine from college doing better, liking what they were pursuing, and being happy in general. Why didn’t I have that, what did I do wrong? In hindsight, my emotions were extreme. I’m only twenty, so I still have enough time to figure things out (something I’ve made peace with only recently), but I’ve always been more of a worrier than a warrior and thus the first month after I quit was mortifying.

What I came to realize was that the security blanket I was seeking, the environment I was after — didn’t exist. When people say that the real world is harsh and that once you leave school you’re on you’re own, they’re telling you the god damn truth. No corporate is going to make exceptions for you, no one will spoon feed you. Nothing can prepare you for the uncertainties that life is going to bring. Everything you do and achieve will help, of course, but in no way does it guarantee a good life. My example is small, and perhaps pales in comparison to ones where people don’t have a decent support system, don’t have the financial stability, and don’t have other options they could pursue (all of which I do have). But it made me realize, that a cushioned life means nothing to the real world. I have it easier than most, absolutely, something I am so grateful for, but I was slapped in the face by life and it was the reality check I needed.

Entitlement is a funny thing, and all of us have it in different amounts, towards different things. For me, it was feeling like I was entitled to a good life because of xyz that I had done; feeling entitled to get respectable work and not scut even though I’m a newbie.

And perhaps, it is good to have expectations, you shouldn’t have to lower your standards. But you also need to understand that not everyone is going to agree with or oblige you. And believe me when I say, that is the most surprising — “People DON’T care about what you want? Really?” And yes, although this has been ingrained into our minds for the longest time, we’ve spent the first 18–20 years of our lives in a cocoon woven by friends, family, teachers and mostly well wishers (assuming we come from privileged households), so we don’t experience it unless we absolutely have to. Others get that reality check much earlier, and I have a crazy level of respect for these people.

Why not apply to other jobs then? Why take a year off? Well, like I mentioned before, I was used to a structured environment; the feeling of uncertainty and my peace of mind were not best friends, they weren’t even acquaintances. In order to get a sense of the real world, I needed to make this decision and get over my fear. I forgot to mention that my anxiety is coupled with severe indecisiveness — I still have no idea about what I want to do, or the field I want to get into. In a way, I’m thankful to my first job for opening my eyes to the fact that I had no idea about what I wanted to pursue and the harsh reality of the fact that I no longer classify as a confused child. I’m a confused adult.

For some people, taking a year off is an easy decision to make, for me it was an incredibly difficult one. Now I can do potentially anything I want. So what do I do? Does this make me a loser? Does this make me incompetent? How are people going to look at me (especially in a country like India where things like this are frowned upon)? Will my friends race ahead of me?

But you know what I realized? It will suck, for a while. But if not now, then when? People may race ahead, people may talk, but at the end of the day — who is this supposed to benefit? I wont classify this as a failure, a turn in events certainly, but not an instance of failure; the fact that I initially thought it was one highlights the extent of my naivety.

I don’t know how many people this may reach or how many this may even help — but know this, to seek clarity, submerge yourself in uncertainty. Not knowing how everything will play out, not knowing what your future may lead to, is incredibly unsettling, but it is also sobering. It will be horrible, but it’s a necessary evil that I think everyone needs to face. Dig through the noise — it’s the only way to stay sane and find what you’re searching for.

I’d be lying if I said I’m not afraid. Boy, am I. But this is also thrilling. I’m doing everything I can to fill this year up with productive things to help ascertain what I want to do, but I’m also taking time out to document it. Because hopefully, in a few years when I’ve found my peace and my footing, I can look back to now and know that everything I was worried about, was perhaps unnecessary, and every fear I overcame, made me the person I wanted to be.