How long did it take you to feel settled after college?
March 15, 2011 6:56 PM   Subscribe

How long did it take you to find your post-college groove?

I graduated two years ago this May. Although I feel more settled and confident than I did a year ago, I still don’t feel totally stable—I don’t have a long-term career trajectory (although I do have a “real job”) or any long-term romantic relationship. I have moved three times since graduation—once back home, once across the country and once to another continent. I know I’m still young (recently 24) and I know these things happen at a different time for everybody. I usually look for a lot of change anyway in my life, but I do miss having a constant group of friends, and knowing more or less what I was headed for in the next few years. I’m somewhat lost at sea now, without a lot of close connections or stable lifestyle.

Do I need to stop moving around so much and force myself to stick to one place? Do I keep moving until I find a place I want to stay in? How long did it take you after college to feel like you had settled down, found a career path, and found new long term friends or romantic relationships? To stop feeling so nebulous and more grounded to something? How long does post-college angst last?

To clarify, I’m not unhappy, and although I don’t have a lot of close friends in my city, I’m not looking for suggestions on how to make more. My job is a learning curve, but I feel like I’m doing fine handling that and living alone. I just want to hear others’ experiences on their post-college experience, how long it took to feel really settled, and maybe your opinions on how much moving is “too much.”
posted by queens86 to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I'm 35 and only found my groove late last year. It varies for everyone.
posted by dfriedman at 6:58 PM on March 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

I graduated four years ago. When I feel settled, I will shoot you some memail.
posted by jenlovesponies at 7:03 PM on March 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Not until having a kid (mid-thirties) -- it took that to take the focus off myself, and that shift came as a tremendous relief and clarified no end of things for me. I feel pretty much bombproof, stability and happiness-wise.

The lack of stability in my 20s was not all bad; I would not have changed much about the course of events. One year I lived in five different cities, and having that sort of hopping around in one's past makes, I think, settling down much more pleasant. Good to know exactly what one is missing, so to speak. Once one is settled one does tend to settle and things are not really set up well to do otherwise -- qv derisive comments about having a "mid-life crisis" -- and it's good to go into a more settled phase feeling secure about being done with not being settled.

(All that said, I cannot wait to see how I answer this sort of question in another fifteen years. I'm sure there's a pile of stuff I have no idea about; I'm very excited to find it out...)
posted by kmennie at 7:08 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had sort of a groove going for 2 or 3 years up until last year (I'm 31). I got a decent job I liked pretty well, a few people I could do stuff with, and enough feeling of security to be able to enjoy a couple of hobbies during my off hours. Then I lost my job and a few other events caused my life turned upside down and I felt more ungrounded than I ever have before. Now I'm getting a new job and hoping to start feeling a bit more grounded again. I think for a lot of people life is just a series of finding a place that's relatively comfortable (a groove, if you will) muddling along in it for a while, having an upheaval of some sort and falling out of the groove, finding a new groove, muddling along in it...
posted by frobozz at 7:18 PM on March 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've had the steady job for three years and the degree for almost four years, the nicer apartment for six months, the car for a year and a half. Working on the significant other. Still not exactly "settled," but I'm happily moving that way. I've been living in the same city (and its suburbs) for seven years, and that really does help. I grew up moving all the time, between divorce and parents actually buying and selling and renting with some frequency, and it's definitely a barrier. For me, anyway.
posted by SMPA at 7:19 PM on March 15, 2011

50 years and counting.
posted by KRS at 7:25 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not all of those things will happen at the same time, or all at once, or continuously.

I graduated from college in 1996.

I got married to my high school sweetheart two weeks after college graduation, and I'm still with her today. That facet of my life has been a major source of strength for me during the tough times, so you might say I found my relationship groove early in life.

Friends will come and go. Some friends you will know your entire life, while others might lose touch if you change jobs or towns. Some friends might turn their back on you for reasons that may or may not be your fault.

I almost immediately got a good job after college graduation, and fell into a steady solid feeling of success early on. However, I was laid off five years later and took another job that was steady, but not something I really liked to do. We decided to move across the country in 2005, and I spent the last five and a half years in various levels of unemployment and underemployment.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to apply for a local job and was hired on the spot at my interview. Some of it was being the right person at the right time, and some of it was my workplace needing someone yesterday. But I finally feel like I'm getting my job groove back after several unsuccessful years.

To get around to the point, I suppose I'm trying to say that you will feel various levels of settled depending on what's going on with your life and job and whether you have the support of friends or partner. You may even have years of feeling settled be suddenly punctuated by upheaval, like the loss of your job or a breakup with your partner.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:27 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

First groove was 8 years after graduating undergrad (two years after I began a p/t graduate degree and changed jobs to something I really LOVED doing vs. merely did for a living). The magic wore off only after 7 years.

Second groove was 18 years after graduating undergrad when I started a different career. That was five years ago.

Sometimes it takes awhile to find your niche, and you may have to seek out something new again anyway.
posted by jeanmari at 7:31 PM on March 15, 2011

About 6 years. We'll see if that lasts.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:32 PM on March 15, 2011

My situation is kind of the opposite of yours. I've lived in the same city my whole life except for when I went to college (graduated in '08) and I'm pretty settled in some of the ways you describe (friends, relationship, living in one place). I don't really think that gets me off the hook, post-graduation-angst-wise, though. I wouldn't say I'm unhappy, but I do still spend a lot of time wondering about the future, mostly if I will wake up in 10 years from now and realize that I'm still at my same old (pretty good but not Exciting) job in my same old city and have never really learned about myself and the world the way I would if I'd traveled farther afield. So I guess one of my answers is "a couple of years, if you stick around the same place" and the other is "settled might not be as great as you think it is."
posted by mlle valentine at 7:37 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll go with 34/35. By that time the world has squashed the thought that you'll make big changes, you've gotten enough skills to be taken seriously, and you are able to articulate things to start making the right changes.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:44 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm 36 and just starting.
posted by josher71 at 7:53 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

30? Maybe? I feel groovier every year, though. :)

But I was married at 24 and didn't feel at all life-settled. "Just" finding the right job, or the right spouse, or the right place won't do it; it's a process, and it's as much about what's going on on your insides as it is about finding the right "exterior" things (spouse/place/job/etc.).

I still, however, have no idea where I'm headed in the next few years. Maybe you just get comfortable with that after a while when you're out of school? I always knew what I'd be doing until I was 22. Since then, no plan. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:12 PM on March 15, 2011

Three and a half years.
posted by lollusc at 8:23 PM on March 15, 2011

i am in pretty much exactly the same situation as you described.

Do I need to stop moving around so much and force myself to stick to one place?

nope. the best thing i have discovered so far about being a "grown up" is that you get to decide. you can do whatever you want.

personally, i'm happy with not having most things figured out. some of my friends who graduated at the same time as you and me have "settled down" (married, bought a house, etc.) and some of them are where we are. it just depends on you. i think that's the best part.
posted by gursky at 8:26 PM on March 15, 2011

I'm 25, dropped out of college after spending alot of time in it, and thought of my life as 'unsettled and random'. Until my shrink asked me what I wanted to be doing at 25.

"I dunno... going to gigs, hanging out, playing videogames", i said

"and what are you doing now?'

'going to gigs, hanging out, and playing videogames'

in other words, i recently realized that this sort of disconnection and drifting is normal. if you realize that than you can enjoy it.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:55 PM on March 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm 30 and it hasn't happened yet.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:56 PM on March 15, 2011

13 years or so.
posted by fshgrl at 9:53 PM on March 15, 2011

I'm 37 and just went back to school. I was settled. Then I wasn't. Then I was settled again, this time for real. Now I'm back in grad school. Of course, in one sense, I'm settled: I have a spouse, and the cutest durn kid you ever saw, and a network of chosen family I wouldn't give up for nothing. But I'm not settled on a definition of me, really.

I asked my dad once, about junior year of college, how he'd decided what he wanted to capital-d-Do. "If I knew," he said while we were hurtling down the interstate on the way to a family obligation, "I'd be doing it."

Maybe that's what's kept me searching--the all-too-real fear of being mid fifties and still doing something that I didn't want to be doing. That and the example of my husband, who is a computer programmer down to the very core of his being--would be doing it as a hobby if he didn't get paid to do it. As it is, he gets paid to do what he'd do anyway--he found what he wanted to capital-d-Do.

Me? still searching. Maybe I'll find it. Then again, maybe the search is what I'm about.
posted by e to the pi i at 10:06 PM on March 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Dropped out of college. Don't necessarily have my groove, but there have been two changes that have made me feel groovy for now. First was to move away from home and do what I want for me, not for or against anyone's wishes. Second happened when I finally realized that I can make it on my own rather well, which happened in a glorious epiphany around new year's this year (although I'm wary of any feeling that feels like an epiphany).

I think the point you will feel that you have your groove is the day you understand that life isn't something you accomplish, it's something you experience. School does a really poor job of teaching that.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:11 PM on March 15, 2011

Maybe half way in the past few years (33 now). Most of that is related to changes in how I frame my life - I'm less self-centered, I no longer try to control my environment, am much better at accepting people as they are, and have an idea of what makes me happy (which replaced what my parents and culture claimed makes me happy).
posted by MillMan at 10:11 PM on March 15, 2011

35, after I got tenure. Up until then it was all post-college blues.
posted by fifilaru at 10:36 PM on March 15, 2011

I found my groove when I met my husband at 28. It was the first time when I really felt like I "belonged" somewhere. Ira glass, the guy who hosts this American life, says it took him 8 years to really learn his job. I've been practicing law for 10 years and I'd say it took about 9 years for me to really have confidence in what I was doing.
posted by bananafish at 10:52 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for an interesting question!

Re-reading, it looks like your definition of "groove" here has a lot to do with "putting down roots" - place, committed relationships, long-term plans.

These are all external factors to how you feel and see the world so I would say that to a large extent there's no way to say how long that's going to take.

If you have a "real job" and you're "not unhappy" I'd say you're pretty darned lucky and maybe it's time to focus on enjoying the present...!

I recognise the sense of rootlessness, and yes, a large part of that is the modern problem that we have to move geographically quite a lot just to find work and get economically stable.

I know this will sound a bit of a cliche but for me the sense of post-college blues started fading about 6 years after my first degree, when I accepted the fact that I don't know where I am headed long-term and focussed on making very "small" steps in the here-and-now.
posted by KMH at 3:01 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love seeing questions like this that I can relate to.

Coming up on 25 and I'm in the same boat! Two years after graduation I think and have no clue what I'm going to do in the next 10 or 5 years, much less what I'm going to do next year. For what it's worth I'm pretty set on selling all my stuff (anyone want to buy a robust video game collection?) and moving to the west coast. Life is in the journey, right?
posted by grizzly at 4:51 AM on March 16, 2011

Met my husband at 27. 4 and a half years.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:01 AM on March 16, 2011

If you can define "groove" as "rut", I fell into mine shortly after becoming a cog in the machine (aka a drone in corporate america.) So about 3 years. I don't recommend it.
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:03 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I graduated in May and still haven't found my groove.
my degree is not particularly practical, but I have figured out quite a few things I DON’T want to do, so I am going to get my Masters and continue to learn a new skill set that will provide me with other opportunities.
I don't care for my current job, but it makes it tolerable to know I am working towards something new as I've been incredibly bored since graduating, and I am always trying to put myself out there to meet new people, job connections, ect.
posted by handbanana at 7:13 AM on March 16, 2011

I delivered fried chicken, lived with my parents and went out and drank a lot. That lasted about 2 years. Then I found a career, traveled a ton, moved to the big city, found a girl, got married, looking for a house. . .

so 2 years until my life started moving. . . 10 until "american dream" (<-sarcasm)
posted by patrad at 7:16 AM on March 16, 2011

I'm in the same situation.

I have had anxiety that I am "wasting the best years of my life" by not doing something...more?

However, a few weeks ago a bunch of my co-workers were sitting around talking about how their twenties were the most miserable times of their lives. A lot of people have told me that your thirties are actually pretty great- you make more money, have a better job, more likely to be in stable romantic relationships, et cet.

Also for what it's worth if you've ever see the Up! documentary series (interviews with a group of people every seven years starting in like 1963) you see that most of the interviewees are unhappy and angsty in their twenties with a tendency to mellow out by their forties.
posted by forkisbetter at 10:43 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been out of college 8 years, am now expecting my first child with my husband, and still do not feel settled or as though I have hit my groove. I've not found a career path, per se; am applying to graduate school; and am contemplating moving to my fourth city since my college town. In the past cities, I've made some friendships, but in this one, not so much in part because of a totally different work environment for myself and my husband both, and I very much miss that.

As far as feeling a bit more settled personally, that's happened gradually since about 26, but even that's fairly fluid- especially given I've not decided where I wanted to live or established a career path, both of which play into that for me.

I describe these years as 'anchorless,' and instead, I've tried to focus on relationships with others and myself to offer me some sort of stability. And I've realized that many, many people I know are going through the same thing, at least in some areas of their life, and feeling like we're all a bit in this together has helped.
posted by questionsandanchors at 11:40 AM on March 16, 2011

4.5 years out. Own a house, am married, still no car or really stable job path though. I'm in grad school but it's unclear if I'll be able to finish due to life issues. Most of my friends are in similar boats.
posted by miyabo at 11:20 AM on March 17, 2011

I'm 29, and I've noticed in my twenties, everything just comes in waves. I have 5 or 6 or 8 months I feel really in a groove with thoughts like "WoW! I am finally on my path! Everything is downhill from here!", and then it changes again. Not for worse, but there are a lot of transitions! And this is while being in a serious relationship since college, so I don't think just having an S/O makes you feel settled (but it's great having someone to process all the changes with).

But I do think my early-to-mid twenties were harder in some ways, because I didn't see the cycles as just that -cycles. Even though things still feel really up in the air, and lately I've been in a funk, I do know myself better now, and know that it's just life.
posted by Rocket26 at 7:30 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

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