Post-College Blues: Reflections on Young Adult Transitions

November 7th, 2011
This article is featured in the Rites of Passage (Nov/Dec/Jan 2011-12) issue of Circuit Rider

Kuh, a friend and classmate from college, set down her half-empty coffee cup on the table between us. I looked at her and said, “If I had only known what I know now when I started working, I would have maximized my home development mutual fund membership and gotten myself a house!”

She nodded and said, “Yeah, it’s too bad nobody taught us practical life skills in the university.”

Kuh and I both majored in political science at the University of the Philippines. We couldn’t help but look back at our lives after college. We have gone farther than when we started out. But somehow, we have not come as far as we wanted.

We usually spend four to five years in college; others even longer! We learn the intricacies of language and literature. We calculate solutions to math problems. We bury our heads among so many books in the library. We spend sleepless nights writing term papers and reviewing for exams while drinking gallons of coffee, and (gasp!) we miss our favorite TV shows and hanging out with friends in our favorite hangouts.

Yet, the pains of studying pay off when graduation comes! During my last semester at the University, I had five major classes—I thought that I would never graduate in time. I even contemplated filing a leave of absence halfway through the semester But thankfully, I made it. I felt a bit disappointed that I didn’t graduate cum laude, but I was still proud and elated nonetheless. My parents, too, were beaming with joy! After all, I made it out of the university in one piece and completed my education within four years!

For many of us, having a college degree is one of the first major accomplishments of our young lives. When we are little kids, people often ask us about our dreams and ambitions. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And we’d answer: “I wanna be a doctor,” “An engineer,” “An actor.” Whatever. But now that we have grown up and completed college, we often ask ourselves, “What do I really want for my life?”

And we don’t know. We may have thought that college graduation was the finish line. Nope. We ran through our education. Some friends dropped out, but a lot of us finished the race, only to find out that graduation is but the starting point of a bigger race with much bigger stakes.

Potential Power

Alas, a college education is not a guarantee to success. Napoleon Hill said that knowledge is not power—it is only potential power.

College is over. We have our diploma. Now, what can we do to use this “potential power” given to us?

We need to look back to the lessons we learned from college. And I’m not talking about trigonometry formulas, or how to make a précis, or the implications of the French Revolution on 21st century world politics.

Most young people who go to college also learn the value of independence, especially those who come from the provinces and go to school in big cities. Nobody will take care of you if you get sick, nobody will remind you to do your assignments for tomorrow. But perhaps one of the most important lessons that a college student encounters is how to make decisions. Some of these decisions may be as simple as deciding whether to attend a boring class or loiter around on Facebook for another hour.

Oftentimes, however, some of these major decisions could be life-changing—like changing one’s major, dropping out of college, or moving in with a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

One thing for sure, though; college education or not, the dreams and ambitions we nurtured as kids remain in our hearts.

You may have dreamed of helping your family get out of poverty. Where I come from, poverty is still rampant. Even middle class families feel the sting of economic distress. Most young graduates from the Philippines dream of a better life. Yet, as young people, dreams often transcend one’s immediate family. We dream of a better society, a better country, where we can maximize our talents while contributing to the development of the nation.

Graduating from college is one step towards those dreams. Such education gives us potential power: knowledge to guide us through the world; muscles to climb the corporate ladder; bigger lungs to run towards our dreams; and membership to the intellectual elite of the country. But using that potential power is easier said than done.

Life 101

I graduated with a B.A. in political science in 2003. My friend Kuh graduated two years after. Probably 90% of our fellow poli sci majors went to law school. Only a handful of people like me pursued other interests.

Kuh almost made it to the law school of the University of the Philippines but for a failing grade in Math 17 (College algebra and trigonometry). Kuh’s graduation was delayed because she had to take Math 17 three times! On top of that, she needed to work to support herself. Some people are just not that good at math, but we chose poli sci in the first place because we were very sure that we wouldn’t have to take math!

We were wrong in that expectation. Just like in college, a lot of our expectations from life could go wrong anytime, anywhere.

After college, most of us face life with heads held high, hearts full of dreams and ambitions, wearing our idealism on our sleeves. We call ourselves yuppies. Don’t you just love the sound of that? Young professional! Energetic, full of dreams, ambitions and desires! Life is good! We’re unstoppable!

Almost.

In the movie The Matrix, Morpheus told Neo, “Welcome to the real world.” You see, Neo was coming to a new understanding of the world. As are we.

College is over. What’s next?

Not everyone gets a good deal. As the weeks and months pass by, after failed attempts at landing our dream jobs, our heads droop like sunflowers following the direction of the setting sun.

“Welcome to the real world!” indeed!

You are probably driving down the expressway towards your dreams. Or you may have hit a ditch and you are changing tires. You may even have a GPS and you know for sure where you want to go. But young adults often have difficulty choosing the paths that make the most sense. We have a lot of choices, yet ironically, too many choices can lead to analysis paralysis.

We young adults have much to learn about life. We know and believe that God created us not just to work and earn money. We were created for deeper meaning and significance. But that isn’t always obvious as we wrestle with all the challenges and choices we have to make.

They say that experience is the best teacher. Trial-and-error is certainly one way to learn life lessons. But life is short and if we spend most of our lives making one mistake after another, we may not be able to enjoy life fully as God meant it to be!

Kuh had her second chance at law school, this time at Ateneo de Manila University. She has found a way to get back to her dreams and pursue her calling. We haven’t solved all our problems. In fact, we just talked about them over cups of coffee. Yet, at the end of the day, I feel good that I am not alone on this journey I’m taking. As young adults, it’s very important for us to find time to have coffee conversations with friends and other young adults. The sense of community amid the tumultuous young adult journey could help us figure out the potholes and pitfalls of this road we’re taking.

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