The Post-Grad Pressure: “What Now?”

October 27, 2023

Olivia Alberton (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer

“So, what now?” This was one of the many confusing and consuming questions circulating in my head after I graduated in June 2022. After four years of hard work, dedication, stress and tears, I crossed that stage and obtained my university degree. The feeling was surreal. It was hard to process how, just like that, I was done. What was harder to process was that I did not have a plan for what was next. In my first year of university, I assumed that, by the time I graduated, I would either know what I would do or have an internship. Alas, I did not. What should have been a time of celebration and happiness turned into a time of feeling lost and helpless. The “what now” question was a big rain cloud over my head that just would not go away. 

Upon graduating, there was this pressure I felt that I needed to find a full-time job because that was what was “supposed” to happen. I also felt the pressure from others. People were asking me “What’s next?”, “What kind of jobs are you applying for?”, “What do you want to do with your degree?” and “What kind of job can you get with your degree?” So many questions plagued me that all I wanted to do was bury my head in the sand. I felt stupid because I did not know the answer to those questions, and I felt like I should. In addition, I think there is a narrative etched into society that children in school need to know exactly what they want to do. Society poses this question to teens and expects them to have answers. My guidance counsellor in high school was not helpful and I did not know what I wanted to do. Feeling lost, I took a gap year and thought about what I wanted to learn and what I was passionate about. After weighing my options, I went to McMaster University and obtained a double major in English & cultural studies and history. I love my degree and I do not regret it. However, it does not erase the pressure I face to find a job so I can put my degree to use. At times I feel like I am stuck in my part-time job and my degree is wasting away. All the hard work I put into obtaining that degree was for nothing so far. The rational part of my brain knows that is not the case, however, the irrational part of me cannot help but think that at times.

The pressure one faces after they graduate is something that I do not think is discussed enough. We are in school for so many years that, when that chapter closes and we are told to “go into the real world,” it is a shock. Being a student comprises so much of one’s identity and is always a source of consistency. Therefore, when the chapter of being a student closed for me, I felt this anxiety and pressure I never had to face before. I never had to think about what was next, because there was always school come September. Not this time though. It was up to me to write the next chapter, and I had writer’s block. 

It has been a year now since I graduated, and the pressure has not dissipated. It is still there, some days more apparent than others. I am still facing the “what now” question. The raincloud that would not leave the months following graduating comes and goes, it just depends on the day. I am trying not to let the post-grad pressure get to me because that is not how I want to live. Rather, I am trying to stay positive and remember that the idea that we are supposed to have it all figured out is a lie. Not knowing what you are doing with your life is not bad, it is just life. Life, especially in these times, is hard, complex and confusing. To place the expectation that we must have “it” figured out is both stress-inducing and wrong. So even though I am still facing that “what now” question, all I can do is stay hopeful that everything will be okay and trust in the process. Although it is uncomfortable and the unknown can be scary, I think that is the only way we can grow, to move forward with hope. To those who are also dealing with the post-grad pressure, I hope you know that you are not alone, and when things seem daunting or hopeless, just think about how far you have come. Your younger self would be so proud. Keep going, be gentle with yourself and try not to let the post-grad pressure get to you.   

Olivia is a recent McMaster University graduate with a combined honours in English & cultural studies and history. She loves to read, write and, of course, drink coffee.

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