This past May, I crossed the five year mark from graduating college.
The day after I graduated, the local newspaper in the town where I went to college ran a story about the university’s graduation in which they quoted my roommate and me, then took it upon themselves to say of us and our job outlook that “neither seemed very hopeful.” Find me a college graduate on his or her graduation day who isn’t at least a little bit freaked out about the future. I think you’d be somewhat hard-pressed to do so. I’d like to invite that reporter to meet up with me now and I can show him what a lack of hope regarding job prospects really looks like. But I digress.
Since then, I’ve found myself holding on to college, missing it, and missing my college friends. To some extent, that’s to be expected, since everyone always tells you that you’ll be closer to your college friends than you ever were with the friends you had in grade school. I haven’t stayed as close with all of them, but the few I have are still my closest friends. I’d argue that you grow up more and find out more about yourself in the four years you attend college than at any other point in your life, and those are the friends who are right there, experiencing that change with you. It doesn’t make sense to everyone, I guess, but it makes sense to me, and so I’m sticking with it.
But the further removed from college I get, the more my hanging on starts to draw a little bit of criticism. People tell me to get over it. Life goes on. Of course I know that; I’d be silly not to. The thing is that there was a certain something about college that seemed so much safer than the floundering I’m doing right now, and I think maybe that’s what draws me back.
For one thing, when I needed a job in college to satisfy my work-study requirements (and to, you know, earn money), I went to my financial aid advisor who pointed me in the direction of jobs I might find interesting. If I found jobs on my own, even better. I had six different jobs, four of them simultaneously and while I was student teaching, over the course of my college career. I never had to stress about finding a job. Someone was there to help me set that up. There were no interviews. No resumes. No cover letters (which, by the way, are the bane of my existence, I’m convinced).
Next, all of my friends were right there. When I wanted to hang out with someone, I didn’t have to drive south or east for four hours to do so. I walked downstairs. I walked across campus, across the hall, next door. I yelled across the room. Bonus? There were always people around, and so there was constantly the possibility that I might make new friends at some social function. I wasn’t (and am still not) really outgoing, being rather on the shy side in my social endeavors, but at least there were an abundance of people around who were my age, so the possibility existed. I did what I’d done in high school: I joined things and I met people. I had very few close friends in college, but I did know a number of people. I never had to sit by myself in the cafeteria, and rarely had to sit in class without an ally. Did I get bored? Of course. I went to a school that was surrounded by cornfields and cow pastures, and when the breeze was right, you could smell not only the cows, but the pigs and chickens that were a few miles west of the campus. But looking back now, I’d take that boredom over the boredom I experience, at nearly 28 years of age, sitting in my parents’ house all day doing nothing but looking for jobs. I would take that boredom in a heart beat because it entailed….
Freedom. I don’t have a curfew or anything like that while I’m waiting out my time here in my tiny grade school bedroom that is, in fact, smaller than at least two of my former dorm rooms. My parents haven’t put a bunch of rules on me. And yet somehow, I still feel as though my life at the moment isn’t quite as free as it was when I was in college (or lived by myself, for that matter). It doesn’t matter, as I have few places to go and fewer people to hang out with, but it’s the principle of the matter. I miss having that freedom and being able to use it to go to Sheetz or Dunkin’ Donuts at midnight or Wal*Mart at 2 a.m. – and never alone. Always in good company.
Problems were a lot less complicated. Oh my gosh, I slept through my alarm and missed my 10 a.m. class is not quite as problematic as Oh my gosh, I slept through my alarm and now I’m going to be at least twenty minutes late for work. Cramming my schedule full of work and classes and wondering when I was going to be able to study is not the same as wondering when I’m going to have an income again and be able to pay my bills. Sick? I didn’t have to sweat it out, hoping that nothing was really wrong. If I needed a doctor, I could go to the health center. If I needed medicine, I could get medicine. If it was something they couldn’t help me with on campus, they’d make me an appointment at an actual Dr.’s office where my insurance (RIP, insurance) would cover it.
So, yeah. I miss college. And maybe I’m missing it more right now than I should be, but right now I’m still free-falling head-first. I don’t think it’s so wrong to be missing the things that provided me some kind of stability when that’s what I’m lacking and what I desperately need. Of course I miss having a place of my own, my own life, my own schedule, a job. I miss all of that, too. This lack of structure in my life needs to come to an end soon, and I fear it’s going to be a matter of ego. But that’s another post for another time.
What I’ve realized that reporter missed back in 2005 is that I was uncertain, but I was hopeful. There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to get a job somewhere. My uncertainty was where (I wanted a job that would keep me close to my friends [that’s what I’ve always wanted]) and how soon. Maybe it was naiveté, but I seem to have had more confidence in myself then than I do now, having spent the last two years looking for permanent full-time work. I didn’t get stressed out about applying to jobs. By this point in the summer after my graduation, I already had one. I was so hopeful then because it never really occurred to me not to be. If it did, I don’t remember it being a dominant feeling, certainly not like what I experience now, and it definitely didn’t entail the kinds of anxiety that I keep feeling. The word “job” or any of its variants didn’t have the potential to bring me to tears of frustration.
In my moments of total calmness, I tell myself that it has to happen soon, that I will get a job, and that the fact that I haven’t yet is through no fault of my own. It just hasn’t been right yet. Sometimes I believe myself, sometimes I don’t. A wise man named Tom Petty once said that the waiting is the hardest part. I wonder if he’s planning a tour for his new album. Maybe he’ll hire me to haul speakers on and off-stage.