You Are not Your Graduation

Dwell not on the best day of your life.

You made it.

You turned in the paper. You passed the defense. Graduation is nigh. Your dad’s brought the good camera for the celebration, and your mother packed the fanciest of church hats. You’ll hug your professors, walk across the stage, and leap into the rest of your life.

So, why do you feel so empty?

Trust me, I get it. I’ve been through four graduations of my own. Each was a new opportunity to reflect on my accomplishments and appreciate how far I’ve come. But no matter how blessed I felt, there was still something missing.

Do you know what’s even crazier? Graduation season just passed. I saw all the new grads sport their newly bought regalia and new degrees. Do you know what I felt? Jealousy.

My mind played tricks on me. How could I feel this way? A year ago, I literally milly rocked across the stage. Where the hell would this jealousy come from? What more could I want?

At least I’m not alone.

I’ve found this feeling has a name: post-graduation depression. Fortunately, many articles discuss why this feeling is so paradoxical: how can you feel so sad, during such a happy time? In fact, Juli Fraga, a psychologist in the Bay Area, argues this perceived happiness is why the depression is so hard to discuss: “…[It] makes it even more shameful for someone to admit that it’s not.”

Some articles discuss how graduations cause undue pressure, transition-related anxiety, and increase the insecurity of having no goal to strive for — after accomplishing such a large one. Other articles discuss how schools offer structure in a chaotic world, that success is relative, and that obstacles of post-grad living are harder than graduates might expect.

It’s clear for many students, graduations rarely respect the complex and dynamic feelings graduates have about their massive transition. This is what happened to me: while everyone was excited about my accomplishment, I felt nothing but anxiety, stress, and concern about what lies ahead.

The good news? We have the opportunity to redesign our relationship with the graduation experience. What first?


Process the experience.

Change is the only constant.
- Heraclitus of Ephesus (maybe)

Take time and space to deal with this transition. Before you begin the rest of your life, you should grapple with what you’re experiencing. Though you might not realize it, you’re going through loss.

What you’re mourning isn’t traditional; you haven’t lost a person, a pet, a relationship, or some valuables. This time, you’re mourning the loss of a past life. You’re moving out of your home, you’ve lost a goal (that you’ve accomplished), you might have lost a community, you might have even lost a part of your identity. Understanding this is the first step.

So, how do you grieve? Fortunately, there are countless resources available that can help you deal with grief and loss. These articles talk about how grief is unpredictable, deserves your full attention, and requires even more sustained personal and community self-care. One lesson I’ve learned is how what you’re grieving, like a heavy scar, won’t ever truly go away. But if dealt with properly, its presence can shape your future for the better.

Thank your support system.

Bootstraps don’t exist.

You’ve never pulled yourself up by them in your life.

Sure, you could be the smartest smarty to ever smart. But, you didn’t get a chance to be smart until someone put tools, resources, and people in front of you to use them effectively. So it goes with graduations. You’ve been raised by a village; it’s time to acknowledge the villagers.

When I took a train across the U.S. after leaving the Bay Area, I wrote hand-written notes to my personal village. This served two purposes: It gave a chance to reflect on how large my village had become, and how exactly they filled me with the fuel to accomplish my dreams.

You don’t have to write letters. There are many ways to express gratitude. You can visit them if they’re still around. You can send them the perfect gift. You can even pay it forward to younger friends who still need support. Lift as you climb, right?

Form the habit of learning.

When I lost access to the UC Berkeley online library, I was heartbroken. I might have spent half of my total work time navigating their databases in some way or another. It revealed something else: I developed a voracious hunger for new knowledge.

If you did school right, you probably feel the same way. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. It’s a vicious cycle. Why stop now, just because you left school grounds?

We live in a blessed time. I don’t have to tell you how many learning resources exist today on the internet. Last I checked, you used the internet to access this article. Now that you’ve accomplished such a massive goal, the world is your oyster.

Start somewhere. As the folks who wrote the book Design Your Life suggests, fashion a low bar for learning something new and clear it. The path won’t be as simple and clean as it might have been in school; there’s no course syllabus or canon reading for learning more about topics on life. You’ll find some books that change your life, and other books you hate. But, at least you won’t have to learn topics you never cared about in the first place.

Amazing what you’ll learn next.

Make something new.

Think back on the first time you remember making something. Was it a drawing? Did you play with some Lego blocks? Did you act out a scene with some barbies?

Now, think back on the last thing you made for yourself. Was it poetry? Did you paint a picture? Maybe you like to DIY some furniture.

Notice a difference?

Today, my ego is right by my side whenever I make something new. It’s not peering over my shoulder; I feel it in my back and my forehead. It loves to ache when I write something newly shoddy. It’s interesting, though: once I read something I complete, the feeling moves to my heart; it swells with indescribable pride.

Making things has that transformational nature. As your creation evolves, you pour more of yourself into its development, learn from the process, adapt from other topics you’ve seen. Over time, a few of those things will see the light of day. It’s amazing how the process of creating becomes a catalyst for our own purpose. What you make, makes you right back.

You’ll make trash most of the time. You’ll compare your first stage to another’s masterpiece. I’m telling you; keep at it, whatever it is, and you find yourself transformed.

Connect with the world.

The internet is filled with beasts and bots.

I remember when Web 2.0 discussions were all the rage and the world marveled at how the Internet would become a space for more dynamic, immersive, and interactive web experiences. How did we know greener pastures would turn into the Wild West?

Though the recesses of the internet are truly animal, you can use the tools to connect with your humanity. You have the opportunity to sustain and develop connections on virtually any topic then was ever thought possible. If you’re interested in food, travel, Furbies or fashion, the internet can provide people who are looking for a human connection, just like you.

How?

The answer is simple. Give.

Over the past few months, I dumped nearly everything I’ve had into learning about how I can leverage social media to strategically brand and develop myself. One huge secret: the reason why giving to others works so well is because barely anyone does it in the first place. Ask yourself: what can I do to add value another’s life?

The more you give, the more others will give to your benefit. Your mother was right about that.

“Graduations aren’t supposed to be fun.”

After the festivities died down, one of my closest family members offered that sobering advice. At the time, it felt harsh. Now, I think I understood what they meant.

Here’s a secret: it’s hard to graduate. Yes, getting to graduation is hard, but in this day and age, it’s equally difficult to take the next step. The job market feels rigged, you have burdens you never expected to experience, and the world pressures you to never talk through these issues. When I felt jealous, I was yearning for that false representation of bliss that graduations represent.

But know this: you’ve done something amazing, and if no one else says it, I’m proud of you. I’m not only proud that you made it this far, but that you have the courage to continue pushing, day by day, to remake yourself. Your future self will thank you for it.

You will never be yourself again. Who will you become?



You made it! I can’t thank you enough.

I can feel it; you have a lot to say on this topic. My ear is yours.

If you want to know more about how innovation+design can help you guide your path, come talk to me. We’ll find your way forward.