Besides being released into a different world with a different economy and different dollar, different technology, and different expectations of job-satisfaction than our parents, why are us millenials struggling so much post-college?
The formula has changed a bit, for one. What used to be the passport to a well-paying, kushy job (a college degree) is now simply advantageous rather than necessary. But it’s hardly the job-search part of the post-college life that’s tough — it’s much bigger than that. Much, much bigger, but also much, much simpler than finding a job, an it’s something we need to think about, and then think about changing.
I think the struggle lies in a mentality engrained in us all since birth: that “the real world” is this intensely separate, scary, mistake-free world that we are not a part of until we receive our diplomas.
If that’s true — if our access to the real world is restricted until we get an arguably arbitrary piece of paper — then what does that make college life, and the life before that?
College isn’t fake; it’s very much real, and we’re doing ourselves a huge disservice by making such an inaccurate distinction between these two phases of our lives.
Yes, college life is vastly different than life after graduation, and to some extent, for some people, the financial burdens and weight-bearing decisions are significantly greater in life off of campus grounds, but to tell ourselves that college is not “the real world” both under-values the decisions we make as students and over-values the decisions we make as graduates.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t realize until it’s “too late” (it’s never literally too late) how serious we should have actually taken our lives as students. Likewise, we also fail to realize how non-seriously we should take the “real world” once we are a part of it.
We have completely separated ecstasy from productivity, fun from work, and we end up as unhappy punch-in, punch-out employees at a 9–5 with benefits because this is what we believed we were “supposed” to do and this is what we were taught the “real world” was. To think of college as our “last hoorah” where what we do doesn’t really matter is a weak and deeply flawed mentality, and it tells us that the rest of our lives are to be taken entirely-too seriously with no more “hoorahs.” It is precisely because we don’t view this time like anything as “real” as the “real world,” that we treat it like a 4 year party, pretend our choices are isolated and weightless, and feel that this is our one-and-only time to say “f*ck it” and put in half-a$$ efforts.
There is so much wrong with that, and we need to do better for ourselves.
First of all, this mentality is contributing to the stark contrast we perceive in the transition from college life to post-grad life, a transition that seems to have absolutely no build-up or fore-play whatsoever, one that feels sudden, raw and eventually painful. To paint two such starkly different images next to each other makes us even more ill-prepared for life after graduation than the system alone does. In fact, the transition from student to contributing member of society is hardly a transition at all, but more a snap of the fingers that snaps away immaturity, irresponsible decisions, the desire to do reckless things, and the belief that we are invincible.
If only it worked that way, right?
I’m not saying we need to take college more seriously and have less fun. I’m saying we need to do a little more and a little less on both sides of the line. We need to put a little more weight behind our college choices and actions and perhaps remove a little weight from our post-college choices and actions.
Another thing this whole “real world” mentality does is place an ominous and intensely heavy burden of seriousness (and boringness) on life after college, which is totally unnecessary, and also totally untrue. The truth is, life as a whole doesn’t change that much once the diploma hits your hands, and how it does change is mostly up to you. We’ve just been listening to sad, nostalgic, career-frustrated adults warning us forebodingly about this harsh “real world” for so long that we chalk it up to way more than it is.
Reality: the college world and the “real world” is the same world, and we are the same people in both worlds, which is another problem with falling prey to this useless societal label. Behaving one way in college but telling yourself you will behave differently post-college is a fallacy. This is not to say that you will not change and evolve as a person over the course of your college career, or that who you are as a freshman is who you will be as a job candidate, because we can all look back and cringe at who we were and what we did that first year on campus. In addition, we know by now that certain situations call for certain demeanors, and we are (luckily) able to differentiate between how we behave at the bar and how we behave in staff meetings.
However, we need to understand that how we are as students is also reflective of how we are/will be as employees. The habits we practice and enforce — either consciously or subconsciously — will not disappear with the allocation of a diploma. The belief that we’ll start respecting our time and the time of others when we have a job, that we’ll put forth more effort when it really matters, and that these 4+ years are somehow “off the record” is directly responsible for the whiplash we feel upon being forcefully and suddenly thrust into that very real, very same world after graduation.
Again, this is not in any way an encouragement to settle down, experiment less, and stay in and study rather than get out and experience the world during those very special and unique college years. What it is, is a suggestion that we take the dark line between the college world and the world after it, and blur it, because what’s happening to us by keeping the two worlds so separate and contrasting is making us unproductive, unmotivated, and worst of all, unfulfilled.
We enter the workforce more prepared to be unhappy than to actually work.
This is thanks to not only the unnecessary and untrue “In the real world…” comments, but also due to the contrast we maintain between these two worlds.
What if we kept our same college-life enthusiasm for trying new things and sucking the most out of every experience, our awful “YOLO” philosophy and willingness to put ourselves out there, once we got to the “real world?”
And what if we, at the same time, tried to remember that our college life was also part of our whole life, and that the decisions and choices we make as students actually do have some weight in our post-college lives?
It’s a delicate balance, but better to be a balance than two separate entities entirely. If we can somehow intermingle our college lives with our “real” lives and see our student-selves as our working-selves, and vice-versa, maybe we could change not only how smooth the transition is, but also something beyond that. Maybe we could alter our fulfillment and happiness if we stopped believing college was it and started believing that it’s all it, just different phases of it.