The Transition To Full Adulthood For New Grads Is Emotional
The transition from college into the “real world” can be intimidating for a new grad. It is a hard transition. There are so many unknowns. As a new grad, your world has previously been structured by school, academic achievement and after-school events like sports, music, theater, etc. Friends have mostly been a school-related social circle and similarly, dating usually centers around school meetings and gatherings. So much has been tailored and laid out for you as a new grad and now, you’re faced with having to create everything yourself, mostly from scratch.
Now, I know some new grads have already faced some of these emotional transitions during college. Particularly if you paid for your school yourself by taking out loans out in your name and taking on jobs while studying, you may have done some of this work already. But you may also be confronted by new emotional challenges in the post-grad world.
New grads have to face a lot of emotional growth all at once, often without the formula to do it. This can be overwhelming and isolating, which is why I’m highlighting 8 challenges for new grads that I’ve seen in my NYC young adult therapy practice (Update: Coincidentally, on July 10, the New York Times came out with a wrap-up of podcasts for guiding new grads through this transition) :
1. Being Lonely and Developing Friendships
There is something about the college environment that makes it easier to meet and run into people. When entering adulthood, you may no longer have this natural system. This can easily lead to loneliness. You have to learn how to create these opportunities for yourself by showing up for friends and developing friendships in a new way. New grads can start by being the organizer of activities with old friends, saying to friends they need them rather than merely running into them, and investing time and energy into someone who seems to have the potential to be a good friend.
2. Working Hard (Without Instructions)
With your parents and teachers’ organization and motivation, working hard, in a sense, becomes a pattern you know. When a professor lays out a paper prompt, you know how to put it together and how long it will take. You work hard in college, but the structure has always been directed. I find that post-college patients in my NYC young adult therapy practice often want someone to still lay their work out for them, but that’s not how it works. Working hard is something you have to develop. It’s important to ask yourself, “What do I need?” and then, develop your own structure for what you’re working on and how to proceed.
3. Integrating Play With Work
While it’s important to work hard, life can’t all be work. To keep working hard, you have to integrate play into your work and life. Play is where we started learning how to be in the world as children and it’s still important to keep playing, even for young adults. Find moments to play in your work day whether meeting a co-worker who can exchange texts, memes or glances to make the day more fun, doing something creative like making silly videos during your lunch break or even, just dancing to a song you love on your way to the train. Play sparks ideas, energy and the ability to keep the work going.
4. Taking Adult Charge Of Emotional Pain
While being a new grad can be exciting, it can also be frustrating and stressful. New grads deal with not getting the job they want, getting fired or just knowing that their first job isn’t the right one. In these cases, it helps to take what I call “adult charge” of emotional pain. This means taking the time to step back to acknowledge your feelings and pain, as well as seek support from friends, family, a therapist, etc. around what you’re feeling. This way you won’t get stuck or lost, and can utilize these relationships to help you think through a new plan, process or just acknowledge that this time is hard and painful. In some respects, just allowing yourself to feel the growing pains is part of your emotional growth.
5. Developing Out Of Old Patterns Of Behavior Into New Ones
In college, we operate in a way that works for college–sleeping late, staying up all night, partying, not eating well, etc. But, once college is over, this lifestyle doesn’t really work in the adult world. Healthy sleep patterns, balanced diet and not drinking too much make us feel emotionally more stable. We can think and feel clearer, and act quicker. As a new grad, you have to figure out a new way to live that you haven’t been. For example, you’re now cooking for yourself–not just in a kitchenette–but providing your basic needs. This means developing not only a new schedule, but also asking for help with what doesn’t come easy for you (Even if it embarrasses you, it’s better to learn than to suffer).
6. Taking Up Space When You’re The New Kid In Town
Being the underling is harder in the post-college world than anywhere. You essentially have to prove yourself all over again. It can be isolating to be thrown backward from being a top graduate to being a non-experienced newbie. The solution is to take up space–become an active learner and participant, as well as have your own input. Say you’re on a team as an intern–you know a lot about the ins and outs of the business, but you don’t know everything. Find out more from those that know more than you do, but also take up space by letting your senior colleagues get to know you. Build a relationship (vs proving yourself) with your boss, mentor or a colleague you look up to.
7. Slowing Down And Being Open To Emotionally Learning
Emotional learning is a process. By emotionally learning, I mean knowing when an emotional process needs to be developed. We don’t all know the social and emotional requirements of being an adult when we graduate. You may have an idea about this, but so much is still unknown. For example, as a new grad, you might have to work two menial jobs to pay the bills until you can get to a place where you can make more money at one job. This requires some emotional perspective and development of this perspective means realizing you may experience short-term pain with long-term gain. Rather than feeling frayed and having relationships that suffer from being overworked, you can emotionally learn to slow down and figure out what you need to do differently or learn how to do. Slowing down is the key to emotional learning–knowing that our emotions need attention in order to grow. We also need to express our emotions so we don’t get lost in them and can allow others to be let into the conversation.
8. Learning How and When To Ask For Help
Asking for help when everything is so new is essential. This is why schools have freshman deans and residence hall peers. They knew that adjusting to college needs support. Similarly, adjusting to the post-college adult world, you need more support as well. The first step is just knowing you will need help because everything is new. The second is knowing when to ask for help whether you feel emotionally overwhelmed and stuck on a certain topic, the same things keep happening over and over (running late to work, not making your bills on time, friendship loss/lacking) or you just feel in pain all the time. We don’t grow unless we learn to ask for help.