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I graduated college recently! You probably pictured me saying that with a smile and in an excited tone, right? Unfortunately, not so much.
Picture me sitting in front of my computer anxiously applying for jobs and to grad school and apartment hunting and wondering what on earth I am going to do with the rest of my life. Everyone talks about what an accomplishment it is to graduate college enter “the real world.”
No one talks about the fear of the unknown.
No one talks about how hard it is to stay positive and not revert back to old negative behaviors and ways of thinking when you’re competing in a harsh job market and suddenly have to take more responsibility for yourself than you ever have before.
Summertime is no longer a break to relax and unwind before another predictable semester of school. It’s a grueling race to find a job as soon as possible, and no matter how qualified you may be, there are no guarantees.
Even after I stopped using eating disorder behaviors actively, the perfectionistic mindset that characterized my eating disorder still provided comfort and direction, especially academically.
Wanting to achieve the lowest possible weight became an obsession, then achieving the highest possible GPA while in school.
While academics are certainly a healthier outlet for my perfectionism, I never truly learned to stop defining myself by a number.
Now that I have graduated, I have the challenge of finding out who I am without hiding behind the “perfect student” facade just like I used to hide behind my eating disorder.
I can’t use the equation “high GPA = good person” to calm my anxiety about being good enough, and I have to accept the job search is an ongoing process that I cannot control.
I can only control my personal performance in interviews; I cannot control the competition that is my peers or how my employers make their decision.
I am far along in recovery, so this feeling of having no control does not trigger my eating disorder; but it does trigger feelings of hopelessness, fear, and extreme anxiety.
I don’t have all of the answers on how to cope during this time of uncertainty, but I do have some ideas.
Here is a mini survival guide to dealing with the uncertainty that is post-grad life:
Create your own structure.
If your eating disorder recovery depends on structure but you don’t have any: create your own! I create set times during the day for job searching, grad school applications, and my meals.
Write a list of positive affirmations about yourself.
These affirmations should have nothing to do with your academic or career achievements. You are worthy and deserving of happiness unconditionally. It should not depend on external factors.
Resist catastrophic thinking.
Catastrophic thinking is when you jump from something like: “I didn’t get that job I wanted” to “I’m a failure and I’ll never get a job EVER.”
Remind yourself to think rationally with your wise mind. I remind myself finding a job takes time, and every interview I have is a chance to improve my interview skills and bring me closer to gainful employment, even if it doesn’t end in an offer. There are plenty of jobs out there, I just have to keep applying and interviewing and working hard and something will come through when the time is right.
More on reframing negative thoughts can be found here: http://us.reachout.com/facts/factsheet/common-thinking-errors
Practice radical acceptance.
Radical acceptance means accepting your emotions without judgment and without letting them overwhelm you. In my case, I feel frustrated with trying to find a new apartment, and that is perfectly okay, as long as I do not let that frustration take over my life.
Acknowledge your painful emotions without focusing excessively on them, and in time they will pass.
Don’t isolate yourself!
Meet up with your friends and job search together: trade interview tips, ask for advice on cover letters, and take breaks amidst it all to laugh and have some fun. Being an adult doesn’t mean every second of every day has to be serious.
Stay strong, and remember: you don’t need to always be in control or know what life has in store for you to lead a happy, meaningful life. There is beauty and endless possibilities in the unknown after graduation, and letting go of control can be liberating.
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Jessica has a B.A. in Psychology and Women's Studies and is pursuing a graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She is passionate about social justice and hopes to make a difference in the lives of others and advocate for social change. Having recovered from an eating disorder, Jessica is committed to spreading the word that freedom from eating disorders is possible. Through her writing at Libero, Jessica hopes to empower those struggling with eating disorders to fight for the health and happiness that they deserve.
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