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Recent college grad? Confused about where life goes from here?

Updated on May 17, 2012

Confusion, chaos and hope

Throughout our lives we will pass through various stages. Names like middle age, new parent, golden years, teenager, child, and newlywed are all familiar to us. Each of these stages is a major milestone for most of those who experience them and society has no shortage of advice and expectations to go along with them. But what about recent college graduates? What do our lives look like? What advice does society have for us about navigating the complex, confusing and often emotional waters that surround the years following leaving college? In my experience, the answer is not much.

Maybe the problem is that the lost college grad is a recent concern. In years past college was a fast track to a successful career, there was rarely enough time to sit back and look at your life and where you wanted it to go. With today's rough economy more and more college grads are finding that their degree does not deliver on the financial promises they thought it would. Instead what we have is a basket of questions, concerns, worries and dilemmas, and not much else.

However, like so many other seemingly bleak times in our lives, the time after college can be a powerful time of reflection, reevaluation and yes even fun. In fact, what we might have originally seen as a time of lost wandering and unfulfilled promises, can in fact turn into an opportunity far richer than we ever expected.

Where I'm coming from

As I hinted at, this is the exact situation I find myself in now. It was less than a year ago that I left college with my master's degree in education. When my wife and I started our degrees (we did the program together) we were told that education degrees, specifically special education which we both received, were golden tickets to great jobs. Blame it on the economy, or blame it on an area of the country that is saturated with great teachers, but almost nine months later we both find ourselves working jobs we hate making a yearly salary that barely breaks double digits. What's more, like so many people in various fields, we are looking at the possibility that it will be years before jobs open up for us.

I come from a family where education has led directly to high paying jobs for many of my relatives. I was raised on the idea that college is how to get a great job and how to succeed in life. Our situation has caused us to reflect on so much more than just the idea of whether or not college is still the career boosting rocket it once was. We are evaluating what it really means to achieve the American Dream, where we go with our lives, what kinds of things are worth our time, and what it means to be successful. Sometimes our answers to these questions are confusing, sometimes they are scary and sometime they make us angry.

On a rare occasion though, these answers lead us to a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us. These answers more than make up for the other ones. I think this is the biggest thing that recent grads need to know. Your years after college will challenge you. Big time. Whether your challenges are financial, existential, or both, you will struggle to define yourselves and your life. The process will be hard but the rewards will be great.

Facing the future

I'd like to share this article, and the ones to follow, with others who find, or will soon find, themselves in a similar position. A sort of map, drawn by someone who has gone before but has not yet reached the treasure. No 'x' will mark the end of your post college journey, but along the way there will be guideposts to let you know you are on the right track. Maybe we'll be able to guide each other too.

So if leaving college has left you feeling dazed, confused, angry, sad, betrayed, hopeful, relieved, excited, scared or all of the them combined, do not worry. You are not alone, and you are right where you need to be.

Your experience

What was (is) your experience following college?

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