Try Not to Fear Life After College

My 21st birthday is two months away, and many older friends have told me that it’s the most bittersweet birthday. In less than a year, I’ll be done with college and off to work. Most people are on the same path, unless they put off the real world by traveling for a year, going to graduate school, volunteering in Africa, or teaching English in a foreign country. Either way, reality awaits us all around the same age.

Movies like Revolutionary Road and American Beauty explore how depressing suburban life can be. To be honest, I think Revolutionary Road belongs in the horror film genre. Both movies follow the lives of bored 9-5 workers who seek something more out of life, and in the end of each film, a main character dies dramatically. Kevin Spacey’s character hates how predictable his life has become, so he obsessed over a 16-year-old cheerleader. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are unhappy with the inevitable path they’d taken, so they fantasize about moving their children to Paris for a year, and they’re happiest as a couple while planning out their move.

Thankfully, Office Space and The Office have a more humorous take on the same lifestyle. It’s scary to think that the rest of our lives may be devoted to desk jobs or work in general, but is this something to mope about?

It would be nice to enjoy life without having to worry about a job. Think of how much more we’d all do for ourselves and for our families and friends. We would travel everywhere, sleep more often, likely live longer, have more time for physical fitness, and pick up more hobbies. But would it all seem so great if we didn’t have to work for any of it?

The only reason I truly enjoy my time off school and work is because I’ve had to work incredibly hard in the past. Last summer, I interned for 40 hours a week at Townhall. For a 19-year-old, the idea of working 40 hours a week is unsettling. But because of these hours, I learned to appreciate the money I made and the time I had with my friends.

Anyone who has been in this position probably agrees. We’ll work insanely hard after college, but we’ll be rewarded in paychecks, which will in turn allow us to live in our homes, visit our families on the weekends, and go out with our friends one evening a week. It’s very possible to love life after college.

If we’re not meant to enjoy our lives after age 21 or 22, we’d be miserable for the rest of our lives. Most 50-year-olds don’t seem that unhappy to me, unless they’re unsatisfied in general.

If the idea of working so much frightens someone, then he should make sure that he likes his job of choice. It’s also realistic to say that he can learn to like that job someday.

In the end, I’d really hope that people don’t stop being happy simply because they have to get full time jobs. Why can’t they also appreciate the joy that comes out of creating families? It’s a different excitement than going out drinking, but people evolve. I loved running through mud puddles when I was 7 years old. It’s fun to think about doing it again, but I’ve found other ways to enjoy myself since the second grade. The only constant is change, so we must adapt and quit fearing the unstoppable.

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4 thoughts on “Try Not to Fear Life After College

  1. I worked my first full-time job last summer, working at a desk answering phones for an outsource customer call center (they’re EVERYWHERE in Tucson). It was an insane adjustment for me, as an 18-year-old who never worked more than 10 hours a week in his life, to suddenly pour what felt like all of my time into an environment where I was the only person under 25 and one of the few that was under 40. It was good money, possibly the best I could expect to make with my skill set and experience, but I never could shake the feeling that I didn’t belong, that I was stepping into a world that I wasn’t equipped to handle.

    When I turned in my two-weeks’ shortly before the 2008-9 year started, I felt invariably relieved. I miss it intensely now, though, as I had to accept a position on campus this year that offers far less money and less than half the hours, and even then I have to save nearly all of it in preparation for 2009-10.

    I am trying to enjoy college the best I can. I know that school is the last bastion of responsibility-free (or at least responsibility-reduced) fun; after this, the regular grind to which almost everyone adheres will set in. I’ll have anywhere from $10-20,000 in student loans to pay off. I will admit that it scares me, perhaps irrationally so. I don’t want to end up like my mother, working as many hours as I can get at a crap job with high turnover, scouring for overtime and still relying on consumer credit and welfare to pay the bills. She gave up the chance to have a college education to become a mother, though, so that will be at least one advantage I have on her. I intend to get a job that I enjoy, and I am waiting to have economic stability before starting a family.

    In summary, I know exactly what you mean. I’m not so close to “The End”, but I have spent many a sleepless night wondering what I’ll do after it. Today’s rather uncertain economic fortunes don’t ease my worries, however temporary they may be.

  2. I don’t think the problem is people working for a living, it’s people working in careers they don’t want. That’s the real problem. Too many people go to school to do something “safe” instead of what they love, and guess what? They hate it. And it’s got to be hard to do that for 40 years or however long your career lasts if you don’t like it.

    As long as you’re doing what you love, you’ll be fine. Laura, if at any point you find yourself doing ANYTHING career-wise because it’s “safe” or “expected” that you don’t love, get the hell out of it. Not worth it.

    People seem to think taking risks in their careers is going to lead to failure, but the thing they don’t tell you in school is that even if you’re pursuing some sort of art or something “difficult,” if you love it enough and get good at it, you WILL earn money on it.

    1. I’ll never do something just to be safe. My major and minor are seen as useless, but at least I’m happy. I know I’ll find a way to make it work, and I hope most people learn to do the same.

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