A sky free of blemishes makes for a day flooded with sunlight. It’s nearing 90 degrees and June has begun to outstretch her arms over Ithaca and welcome it to summer. “About time,” most residents say, considering the city’s pallid hue for the majority of the year. Once the splendor of autumn begins to decompose and nestles itself into the cold breast of winter, Ithaca sees little natural life until late May and early June arrive. I’m glad to say that June has made her appearance. Perhaps now I can tan my hide and let the sun pull out my golden wheat highlights.
While I am thankful for the simplistic joys brought forth from this endless sunshine, the billowing warmth, and the accumulating perspiration above my brow, across the veins of my arm, and along the lower crevices of my back, life is still a mystery to me.
Post-Grad: can I still refer to myself as this? I suppose so. Or, more so, I hope so.
It has been over a year since I have graduated from college, in which I subsequently moved away from this collegetown of mine, and returning some months ago. There have been a number of jobs I have worked in the past year – barista, specialty running store employee, and bartender – but I haven’t started a career or anything to characterize myself by. This is where I feel at a loss for words.
I have spent endless hours practicing, studying, and working since an early age, all the toils of a perfectionist to the foretold and predicted background of an earned career and self-worth to come; however, here I am. High school has come and gone. College has come and gone. I earned my grades. I earned the positions I worked for. And yet, where is this career, happiness, self-worth, and wealth that I was promised?
Well, as I have found out, the story doesn’t play out that way. For some reason, we oversimplify the conversation, distort and blur the lines, and promise a future that is more fallacy than conscription.
I spent the better part of last year coming to terms with this. The simplest answer I have come to is that no one really knows.
As much as we would like to think that we know our path and understand the outcome of our actions, it is more likely that life won’t play out as we expect. This isn’t meant to be depressing or nihilistic (although I did experience a great deal of both over the past year), but existentialist. While some may regard the thinking of existentialism to be depressing or nihilistic, assigning a negative connotation onto it, I take it to be optimistic.
Through early life, high school, and college, we often identify ourselves with labels: we define ourselves by what we do for education, fun, and work, what we think, what we believe in, who our friends are, etc. These labels and stereotypes tends to pigeonhole us, making us believe that we need to prescribe to the definition of self that others place upon us.
I honestly believe a great deal of my and others anxiety and depression comes from the fact that we aren’t “living up” to that person we’re supposed to be. For myself and close friends, following our having graduated from college and moving home, jobless and defeated, we all felt an overwhelming sense of self-failure and helplessness. What had we worked for if it meant being jobless, living at home, and in debt? Had we really done anything meaningful at all? Was any of that work even worth our time?
I know that my answers to these questions were as follows: I suppose nothing; No; No.
I felt this way because my life had seemed to not work out as it was perfectly described to me. I wasn’t fitting that college graduate label that high school guidance counselors and adults told me about when I was eighteen years old. Add moving home on top of that, becoming that stereotype of the ‘Post-college-grad living in his parent’s basement,’ well, it made that self-image even worth.
Prescribing to this image, one that I had allowed myself to believe, provided me with nothing but worry and other useless thoughts. Furthermore, it did nothing but suck all motivation from me, for there was no use in personal work if it meant nothing would come from it.
Suffice to say, these feelings – allowing yourself to believe in that self-image, the helplessness following graduation, and listening to the stereotypes placed upon you – is nothing but bullshit.
The central proponent of existentialism, as described by Sarte, is that existence precedes essence. Under this proposition, an individual is meant to understand that they are solely an individual – acting independently as conscious beings – rather than the labels and stereotypes that are fitted to individuals from a societal perspective. Furthermore, the life that we live is what defines us, instead of there being an attributable essence that others might use to define us. Thus, through human consciousness, we create personal meaning and value, rather than allowing societal influences to create this supposed self.
Coming to this realization wasn’t easy or simple, since it means that I had to destroy much of who I thought I may have been, but it provided me with an immense sense of ease once doing so.
This didn’t mean shedding my beliefs, loves, passions, or values, but it meant coming to terms with my situation in life. In particular, I needed to understand that no one has it figured out or has their path in plain sight. For some people, it takes a great deal of trials and tribulations to find that point of life that provides them with happiness. It might not come immediately, but when someone is industrious and personally motivated, they will make their way towards want they want, whatever it takes to do so. For others, they might follow the labels they believe are attributed to them and settle down, creating happiness in the situation they’ve come upon.
I know that the latter is not for me. I would rather face personal struggles and test the waters as much as needed to get what I’m looking for. It may not have come along immediately following post-grad, and I accept that now. I’m actually rather happy that it did not, because I have been able to deconstruct the image of self I once put upon myself and find meaning in the simplicity of now, knowing that the future will come along, one way or another.
For now, I’m enjoying the emanating heat and friendliness of this sunsoaked summer day. With the day off from work, I’ve been able to go for my daily run, see friends I dearly appreciate, sip on a hot, floral cup of coffee, eat fresh summer fruit, and write out my thoughts, whether someone decides to read it or not. Honestly, I can’t ask for more.