This one is for all the recent graduates out there – much has been said and written about how tough life is when you’re a student, and how difficult it is to find a job once you’re out of school.
But what if you find a job, and somehow your life is STILL HARD?!
I sort of thought that all my problems would sort themselves out relatively quickly if I found a job that paid more than minimum wage. Any job, really. Growing up, I could never really picture myself with a career.
I could, however, picture myself married, or at least in a serious and committed relationship. That was what I always dreamed of. I dreamed of other things too, of course – I wanted to be employed and have money, for example – but that was the ‘big dream’.
I dreamed about weddings and beautiful dresses, yes, but mostly I dreamed about having someone to share life with. I wanted to be on a team with someone. And subconsciously, I think I imagined this person supporting me, and that’s why I never really thought that long and hard about a career. My thought process was, “Am I competent enough to do this job? Do I not completely hate it? Does it pay okay?” A ‘yes’ to all three of those questions was all it took.
Four years ago, it seemed like my dreams were going to come true. I was living with someone who said they would marry me once we were done school. I felt so adult it was ridiculous. But I didn’t love him enough and I chose to walk away. It was definitely the right decision, but even so, I can’t say that I don’t continuously think “I could be engaged right now…” and I haven’t found anyone willing to commit to me in any meaningful way, let alone marriage, since.
Certain unfortunate circumstances caused me to make my best effort to push this dream aside, and while I was still in school I channelled all of my energy into mental health advocacy. I was successful enough at that that I landed myself a pretty sweet full-time job beginning immediately after graduation.
But then all of my passion disappeared. My drive to make a difference was first replaced by numbing confusion and depression, and then by anxiety about falling ‘behind’. I had a job…and it felt like suddenly that was all I had. All throughout university I was told that was the end goal – get your degree and get a job. Once I had one, the natural next steps eluded me.
At 23, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most people would consider being financially independent, not living with your parents, and having a job that could become a career as being pretty successful. I know I did, for about two weeks.
But I guess I just so happen to surround myself with other very successful 23-year-olds. Some of them already had budding careers before I even graduated, some of them were in serious relationships, some of them had their very own places (no roommates or anything), and all of them were more talented than me.
And if I’m not hanging out with intimidating people my own age, I’m hanging out with older people. The two most recent guys I’ve been involved with have been 26 and 29. With so many more years of experience, of course they’ve accomplished more than I have. Of course they have more money, of course they’re more experienced sexually, of course they seem wiser than me. Of course. Knowing that didn’t stop me from feeling inferior and like I was constantly vying for respect.
I know that in reality, I’m probably on par with other successful people my age, and if I were to have met my older friends back when they were my age, chances are I’d see that they were in the same boat as me, if not worse off in some cases, and their lives still turned out all right.
I feel so much pressure to have things all figured out right now, or at least very soon, that sometimes it feels suffocating. Right now, the biggest things for me are my living situation and my romantic life.
Here are the things that I think others (including both peers and my parents) think I should have: a moderately serious boyfriend, and my own place with modern conveniences such as air conditioning and an updated kitchen, in a non-embarrassing building in a nice neighbourhood.
Here are the things I actually have: romantic experiences that have left me emotionally scarred and damaged, a thing with a guy who also has a serious girlfriend, and a room in a tiny (and I do mean tiny) apartment with a roommate in a student co-op that never looks clean no matter how much we clean it – no air conditioning or dishwasher, to say the least.
This is so far from what I wanted my life to be like that it kind of makes me laugh. Attaining those two things feel like the natural next steps for me, and I want them so bad – so why can’t I get there?
I can’t do much about the boy situation, because you can’t control the actions and choices of other people, but I at least know that I can have my own place. It’s just that it will take money, and saving money takes time.
All I can do is wait and get myself through the waiting.
And while I’ve been waiting, I’ve found myself making choices I didn’t think I would ever make. I’ve made mistakes because it was what I needed at the time, or because it was the only choice I ended up having. I’ve done things and am still doing things that make other people question how those things even benefit me at all or get me any closer to where I want to be. I’ve made mistakes even while KNOWING they were mistakes. I’ve made mistakes, known they were mistakes, and still not have felt bad about them or regretted them.
Waiting for so long can make things feel hopeless and cause you to lose sight of your goals. Waiting is boring, and it’s natural to want to do something just to fill the time which otherwise feels meaningless, or like you’re just ‘existing’. It can also cause you to change as a person and develop new goals, which is okay too.
I’m not saying that you should just throw caution to the wind and say ‘fuck it’. But if you do find yourself doing that, and you do make mistakes, it’s okay. It’s okay to not have things all figured out right now. It’s okay if, like me, you DO have things ‘figured out’ but things aren’t working out for you yet or you don’t know how to get there.
Lately I’ve been having to remind myself of this on a daily basis so I thought I would remind you too, in case you need it. We all grow and attain our goals at various speeds, and the reality is that some people are lucky and some are not. Life is harder for some than it is for others. Life may throw curveballs at you that create obstacles that stand between you and your dreams.
Every week, I end up crying at some point because things are hard and life has not been fair for me. I’ve had to deal with things that I don’t think anyone should ever have to deal with, and there’s not a single day that I do not wish my life was different in this way.
And I don’t know if I will be able to overcome every obstacle. Most of all, I don’t know if I’ll achieve my ‘big dream’ because so many little miracles would have to occur for that to happen and it feels like it’s out of my hands. It’s not up to me who loves me – my worth as a romantic partner is not decided by me. And for the past three years, every single guy I’ve been with has looked at me and decided that I am not worth it – not worth the sacrifice and compromise and hard work that comes with commitment.
People who love me tell me that everything will work out one day. I don’t really know how they envision this happening, but I have to believe that they’re right. I have to believe that things will be okay. That my luck will change.
That’s the trick to surviving. You just have to keep believing that your luck will change and tell yourself that day after day after day after day. And every day you hope that maybe tomorrow will be the day things change. “Soon,” you think.
In the meantime, have faith, believe, be patient, and be conscious of what you do have and the ways in which you are already successful. Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes and try to have some fun. Even if you know it’s only a temporary stop on the way to your end goal.
Chelsea Ricchio is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the SPEAK OUT blog. She is also the Communications Manager for Healthy Minds Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 2015 with a BA in English Literature and Book & Media Studies. She was the former president of the student group Active Minds at UofT, which hosts SPEAK OUT events on campus (from which this blog takes its name). She was diagnosed with Dysthymia and Social Anxiety. She is 23 and lives in Toronto with her cat Genie and her roommate.