I’ve met plenty of frazzled, distracted, and distraught second-semester seniors in college. I couldn’t relate to them. Why were they so stressed? Yes, it will be weird not to be in school after 18 or so years, but change is good and everything works out in the end. What were they so worried about? Get over it.
Now that I am one of those wigged-out seniors, I understand why: College graduation is literally traumatic. These are the thoughts and emotions I have within the span of five minutes of one day:
a. “I got three phone interviews. My Fulbright application was promoted. I’m on top of things. I’m on top of the world!” (Squealing with delight and joy and anticipation about the future.)
b. “Wait a minute. Student loans. Break-up. Debt. Omgomgomg I’m going to be broke and alone and poor and lonely forever.”
c. “But it’s okay. I opened an investment account. I earned $300 this week. I got a credit line increase. I have a new checking account. It’s going to be okay! I’m a boss at being an adult!”
d. “I’m a loser. I’m a loser. I’m a loser. I’m a loser. I’m a loser. I’m a loser. I’m a loser.”
e. “Okay okay okay. I can’t be that much of a loser. I’m learning grant-writing. I have a LinkedIn profile. My resume hardly fits on two pages. I’m awesome at being all marketable and networky! It’s going to be okay!”
f. “Why is life so haaaaaard.” (Looking at photos of ex-boyfriend and sobbing.)
Everything that I have worked so hard to build up over the past four years–friendships, relationships, community, resources, business clientele, my self-worth and sense of place–are all going to disappear or change dramatically as a result of the transition into independence and “adulthood.” Financial security, and the option to depend on my family for support, might disappear entirely. Instead, I am suddenly facing big decisions about debt, credit, savings, investments, career paths.
At least in high school, it was clear what success entailed: good grades, a couple of extracurricular avocations, high enough SAT scores, the ability to write well, and ultimately acceptance to a top-tier university. In the so-called real world, the metrics for success are less clear. In fact, there is no metric besides your own happiness, and as the existentialists noted, that is both liberating and scary as fuck.
I’m doing as much as I can to capitalize on my last semester of participation in the expensive investment that is college. Reading about personal finance. Networking. Attending career fairs. Going through rounds of interviewing. Juggling three part-time jobs to save up money. But am I doing enough? Once I have to leave school, will I regret not having done more?
Meanwhile, I feel like I am losing myself in the race to be as prepared as possible for the oncoming shitfest that is life. I don’t have the time or mental serenity to draw or paint, take photo walks, read poetry and philosophy, write about etymologies, or visit museums. I am constantly thinking about the mundane mechanisms of adult responsibility. Is this how so many adults lose their childhood passions and vibrant imaginations and become assholes? Because they are too busy scouring job listings and revising their resumes thinking about credit scores?
Still, I hang on to the awareness that every year of my life has been better than the last. There are always tough transitions involved, but greater independence and autonomy have always brought me more happiness and fulfillment in the end. Despite my senior-year anxiety, I have faith this will continue to be as true in the future as it always has been.