Help me beat the post-graduation blues...
January 9, 2013 12:20 AM   Subscribe

Lots of life changes: graduated from college, different relationship, became a freelancer all in the last year. Feeling aimless, nostalgic, and in need of some perspective.

There have been a lot of major changes in my life in the past 9-10 months, and only now is the sheer weight setting in.

1) I graduated from college. For a while, I was feeling pretty good, but now the reality that school is, in fact, over seems to be setting in full force. School was something that I was always pretty good at, and this is about the time I'd be signing up for new classes, buying new books, wondering about my new classmates, etc. After being in school pretty much my whole life, with no breaks, I now feel aimless, unstructured, and semi-depressed. I sorely miss intellectual stimulation and discourse. I feel like the "rest of my life" has now commenced, and I'm now just wandering through a sea of hazy half-goals.

2) I ended a very messy four-year relationship and within just a few months, promptly started a new relationship. In retrospect, this seems like an embarrassingly short amount of time considering the length and supposed seriousness of my last relationship, but I am now about 6 months in with my new SO and happy with that part of my life, so I don't regret that decision. I am sometimes amazed, however, at just how much has changed in such a relatively short period of time. While I don't miss my old SO or long to get back together or anything like that, I do find myself periodically feeling sadly conscious of the passing of time.

3) I inadvertently became a full-time freelance writer and editor thanks to a series of coincidences. While on the one hand, I'm excited that people are actually willing to pay me to use my degree, I am worried about the impact that working mostly from home and coffee shops will have on my (pretty much non-existent) social life and sanity. I'm a hardcore introvert, so I'm used to (and often enjoy) being on my own, but sometimes entire days go by without really seeing or talking to anyone, and I start to feel depressed. I have considered taking on menial day job solely for the purposes of social interaction, but ultimately the low pay, lack of flexibility, and commute have kept me from doing so. Now, I'm thinking more along the lines of joining a group or taking a class or something, but I'm not really sure. Is it more important to find a social outlet through work or extracurricular interests?

4) On that note, I'm not sure that I know how to make new friends anymore. Meeting my new SO was a complete fluke, and sometimes I'm still not even sure how it happened after years of not really meeting new people. I'm still closest to friends I made in high school who have luckily remained in the same town, but most of my other friends have moved away, gotten married, have kids, and so forth. (I just turned 23.) I'd really like to meet some new people, but I'm pretty shy, and honestly, it seems like a lot of people just aren't looking or able to commit to new friends. I sort of understand this, because despite my complaints about my social life, a lot of my time is devoted to work, my family, my SO, and the couple of good friends that I do have. I am just feeling a bit bored and stagnant and in need of variety and new perspectives.

I have never gotten therapy before, but have considered it... but I don't even know what to look for or where I'd begin. And the last time I looked into it, it cost a fortune. I've found that yoga and exercise help relieve some of this anxiety, but they are also solitary.
posted by happyjuice to Human Relations (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I have no advice at 42 years old other than to tell you that your life sounds pretty great, and you should def join some social activities.

It's OK to be shocked by life and how it changes. Think of this as the "new normal" because it is.

Adult Life is as you are describing. There is nothing weird here.

You are OK!!

Try meditation along with the yoga. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but solitary meditation will help you feel more comfortable when socializing. Meditation changes you in a good way.

Memail if you want more on the meditation thing. But really, RELAX, you are FINE.
posted by jbenben at 1:01 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

i think it's really common to feel a little rudderless in your 20s as you're not only making a huge transition but you're making major decisions in life regarding career, love life, where you will live, etc. you actually sound like you are doing a great job navigating things.

i think the best way to get to know people is to do things where you will see them on a regular basis. if you just pursue your interests i think with time you will naturally get to know people. half the battle is just showing up.

there are lots of ways you can meet more people: you could take yoga, spin, etc classes or sign up for an evening academic or extracurricular class. join a book club or a writer's group. find a support group or a faith community. try meetups, do some volunteer work in something you are passionate about, work 10 hours a week at a coffeehouse or bookstore you like so you get to interact with the regulars, etc. just have fun whatever you decide to do.
posted by wildflower at 1:31 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Specifically on the freelancing issue: I became a similarly solitary freelancer at 25, and I think that was too young. After a few years working from home started to harm my mental health. Things I've done to improve matters (I'm still a freelancer 9 years on): work on hobbies outside the home that involve other people (music is mine), and, most importantly, rent a desk in shared office space. That has been invaluable - I now see people every day, and get some exercise walking to and from it.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:56 AM on January 9, 2013

I feel like you're me from a couple years ago. Relatively soon after graduating, I started working independently from home full-time, and I've been doing that for the past couple years. I've felt lonely and bored for a long time now, but when I realized I had days where I was losing hope that things would get significantly better, that's the point where I decided to try therapy. The therapist I ended up with is expensive, but it's worth it for me to have this commitment to improving my mental health. I don't know if therapy is what you need at the moment, but keep it in mind if things keep feeling hazy after you've tried to improve them.

If you can find professional networking opportunities, volunteer work that uses your writing/editing skills, or other kinds of work-related enrichment, try it out. I'd like to be meeting new people who do my kind of work - for socializing, for learning new things, and for making contacts. I miss that from having a normal job.

This is an interesting article about the difficulty of making friends as an adult, with some insight - "the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other."
posted by mysh at 5:05 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

On your topic 4:

It gets better, it really does. I think I've had conversations with nearly all of my friends post-graduation that have centered around the difficulty of making friends and getting out of the house. College provides a lot of excellent opportunities for that kind of thing and it's decidedly more difficult to broach the topic in the real world. I have been lucky to have friends-of-friends move nearby and become better friends; I also started reaching out and volunteering and starting meet-ups and stuff like that. The first year was really hard: I basically knew my partner and a couple acquaintances nearby and that was it. The second year, things started to fall into place a little more. I've done more networking in the field that I want to move into. Some of that volunteering has turned into a small sideline. I work at a college and it's rough because I am reminded all the time of how much more I would rather be researching. But I try to keep up with articles and developments in the field, and I'm lucky to have the time and access to a great library. If it's classwork you miss, have you looked at EdX or Coursera? There are a lot of interesting humanities classes that could serve as mental stimulation, even if it's doesn't involve face-to-face contact.


Is it more important to find a social outlet through work or extracurricular interests?

Is really going to depend a lot on who you are, but yes, especially as a freelancer, you should carve out the time and space to be around people. Sometimes, you can even swing it and have it be both-- is Toastmasters your thing? Another writing or speech group? Improv classes? Languages? Would you volunteer helping kids with their homework or with writing and English? Is there an 826 National outpost near you? Many of these aren't quite free (I have been to a lot of networking happy hours...) especially if time is important for your own freelancing work, but it might be worth it to invest, say, three hours a week to test the waters.

Good luck.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:11 AM on January 9, 2013

I think one of the best things about being in your early 20's is meeting all sorts of folks through work. I'm still friends with people I worked with 25 years ago! This is how your network starts.

So perhaps you should transition from freelancing into a job where you meet new people and broaden your scope a bit.

As for the rest of it, you'll notice that time will pass faster and faster with each year. The good news is that at each milestone, you'll smile and say, "This is the best year yet!"
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:19 AM on January 9, 2013

When I was your age, I was very lucky that Alanis Morrisette's first album was popular. The reason why that was lucky was because "Hand In My Pocket" had a really insightful reminder that this sort of aimless/rudderless "now what?" I was feeling was totally okay:

"And what it all boils down to / Is that no one's really got it figured out just yet."

That became my mantra for a couple years, and while it didn't single-handedly fix everything, it at least calmed me down enough to let me spot the opportunities when they came along, and try things and give them up, and grow and learn from my mistakes - and that's exactly the way it's supposed to happen.

So you're totally fine, the way you feel now, because that's what everyone feels. Go get a copy of Jagged Little Pill and listen to it a few times.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:53 AM on January 9, 2013

Oh my god, so normal. In fact, this may be an AskMe first, but I'm going to say that you totally don't need therapy.

Here's what's going on. For the four years of college, your life was basically on rails. You had freedom, of course. But you were thrown together with a bunch of people who were in the same situation and needed to make friends, so making friends was easy. Everyone wanted to date, so dating was easy (it sounds from your timeline like you were one of those couples who got together first semester freshman year). But your relationship was also partially dependent on the structured environment of college, so it was able to evaporate shockingly quickly and be replaced very easily once that environment was removed.

Likewise, your work used to be structured like a video game - four worlds, two levels each. Now it's just kinda this thing that you do every day.

It may sound like I'm telling you that adulthood is going to suck, but that's not what I mean. But it will be different. Work on really and truly accepting that - as long as you keep trying to recreate what your life was like in college, you're always going to be unsatisfied when it falls short. Instead, actively look for the things that are better about your life now that you aren't in college. For example: I just turned 30, and while there are some things about that that I don't like, I'm very happy to find that I've been magically released from ever worrying about seeming cool to other people.

Oh, and also, rent a desk at a coworking place or work in one coffee shop every day and make friends with the staff. Freelancing can be isolating, so you just need to make your own office. That said, you can meet friends however you meet them. I've had a lot of luck with meetup. Remember too that your friends can be 10 years older than you - one of those perks of post-college life.

Good luck! I've been there, you'll be fine.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:09 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, the main thing I discovered post-college about making friends was that you have to work at it, at least at first -- that is, you have to pursue people a bit, ask them to do things, etc. (analogous with dating), rather than passively assuming you'll bump into people and get to know them. (This was true even in a graduate school setting.) Once you know a few people, you may drift into larger social circles, but really, this active-friendship-pursuit/maintenance skill continues to be useful and important recurringly from there on out. Crazy, huh?
posted by acm at 8:17 AM on January 9, 2013

I remember feeling this way when I graduated. I worked in a small office and everyone was married and twenty or thirty years older, so I couldn't make friends at work, so I was kinda lonely for awhile. I finally just accepted that given my career choice I would always be in small offices and would never make friends at work. So I started looking elsewhere and it worked. I volunteer ( I have a regular meetup, and I've made friends through my husband. So I would say just start taking the initiative by joining meetups or hiking or volunteering or running or tennis. It may take a few tries before you find the right group, but you will. Also have you looked into professional writing groups for professional support and networking.

You might want to take a class too. I've noticed that a lot of the universities have extensions aNd there are community college classes too. It sounds like you enjoyed school, so why not take a class. It's usually pretty inexpensive if you go the cc or extension route.
posted by bananafish at 12:28 PM on January 9, 2013

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