I Don't Know What to Do After College

How do I keep myself from going crazy?

Dear Leo,

How does one adjust to life after college? I moved to New York City for school and I’m graduating this spring. I’m afraid I’m not going to know what to do after college. How do I make friends? How do I make a routine? How do I keep myself from going crazy?

Sincerely,

Michelle Cera, Michael Cera’s estranged sister

21, she/her/hers


Hi Michael Cera’s estranged sister,

I had to sit with this question for a while as I’m currently going through this myself. I graduated in July, and permanently moved to NYC in August.

I thought going out-of-state for college would have prepared me for another life-changing, cross-country move, but lately I’ve been feeling a lot like my freshman year-self: in an exciting, yet unfamiliar environment, struggling to leave the confines of my room, constantly wondering, “How the fuck am I going to make friends?”

Now, of course, the pandemic has given me a legitimate reason to avoid going outside (rather than the irrational ones I come up with in my anxiety brain). It’s obviously also done away with any sort of traditional means of getting to know people — not that I necessarily miss awkward small-talk (although it’s beginning to get to a point in the pandemic where I might just start to).

Something that’s helped me that I think may help you as well, Michelle, is really focusing on the fact that you’ve done this before, and you’re still here. Whatever worries your 18-year-old self may have had about making friends at college, you got through it, and you’ll get through it again.

Of course, nothing I just said is particularly groundbreaking or revelatory. But when you’re dealing with intrusive, anxious thoughts like these, it can be helpful to remind yourself of the basics in order to stay grounded in reality.

Anxiety make us hyper-fixate on finite scenarios and outcomes: if I do A, B and C, I’ll find friends. If I don’t do A, B and C, I’ll end up a friendless loser. Because of the spontaneous nature of friendships (and life in general), this black-and-white way of thinking sets us up for perpetual disappointment. There’s no absolute guarantee we’ll make friends if we do A, B and C, and vice versa.

You can’t plan out a friendship in advance. They just happen. I can’t even pinpoint a specific moment I realized that my friends were my friends — obviously, there was a period of time when they weren’t, but then they just were, and always have been. Friendship is a gradual, delicate process that can’t be forced. The more we do try to force it, the unhappier we’ll be when it doesn’t happen.

That said, with the abstract stuff out of the way, there are concrete steps you can take towards making friends post-college as long as you go in with the aforementioned adjusted expectations:

  • Get to know your coworkers, if possible. During the pandemic, I’ve had Slack DMs blossom into beautiful friendships, with some eventually leading to IRL, socially distant picnics. We also have global affinity chats for marginalized identities, like BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people. If you work remotely, hopefully post-pandemic everyone will be under the same roof again, making it a bit easier to meet people outside of your immediate work circle. (This is all assuming you work with likable people, which if you don’t, this option probably isn’t for you. I’m sorry.)

  • Reach out to people you already know who live in your city. Yes, we always say we’re going to make plans with someone to grab coffee and catch up, but actually go through with it. Since you went to school in NYC, Michelle, I’m sure a lot of your classmates will stay past graduation — it wouldn’t hurt to ask. I hung out with high school friends once when I was brand new to the city. It was nice to feel like I had a piece of home with me here in this concrete jungle, even if for a fleeting moment.

  • Ask your family and friends if they know anyone. Everyone’s got a friend of a friend. I connected someone from my hometown with someone I went to college with because I knew they were living in the same city postgrad. Michelle, given that millions of people live in NYC, there are definitely good odds that you’ve got connections somewhere in the five boroughs. Even if you don’t end up becoming besties, it’s nice to know at least one friendly face!

  • Check out your alumni networks. Similar to the friend-of-a-friend theory — checking in with your local college alumni group is a great way to find friends. You’ll have built-in things in common to talk about, and get access to older graduates who can show you the ropes of postgrad life. Maybe you’ll even find people from your graduating class who you never met before!

  • Look up community events, local organizations, group hobbies, social media, etc. There’s a LOT of potential in this category. People on Craigslist and Reddit always advertise the weirdest stuff happening nearby. Even during the pandemic, there’s tons of free webinars. Go to one! Attend virtual yoga! Meet up with a Twitter mutual and become friends IRL! Start a stan account! The possibilities are endless.

  • Live, laugh, love. But actually. A year into the pandemic, it’s hard to remember what living life genuinely feels like. Once we’re all vaccinated and society gradually readjusts, we won’t be so averse to strangers. You may become friends with someone in the checkout line at the store, at a concert, on the bus, at a party — who knows! Keep an open mind.

In terms of making a post-college routine, it’ll honestly be dictated by your work schedule. Over time, it’ll settle itself out. Sometimes, the repetitive monotony of the work week can feel overwhelming (à la Squidward in Tentacle Acres), but the weekend (assuming a traditional 9-5 job) does make for a nice buffer, providing a chance to reset and recharge to do it all. Over. Again.

It’s almost like being in high school again in the sense that you set aside an 8 hour chunk of time every weekday, except you have complete autonomy over your life outside of that. And no homework. Yes, sometimes you really won’t want to do those dishes, and that’s okay! You don’t have to. The key to maintaining a routine is allowing yourself a bit of leeway for those moments when you desperately need a break. Otherwise, it’ll start to feel like a burden, and you’ll want to stick to it even less.

It’s essential to find something to do outside of work — bird watching, painting, launching an advice newsletter — something you really enjoy, so you don’t let work consume you. And set boundaries! (Especially when working remotely, since the line is so blurred between work and personal life.) Let your manager know that as soon as the clock strikes 5 p.m. on Friday, you will not be available again until Monday at 9 a.m. Make it a point to shut down your computer at a certain time so you don’t feel tempted to do work outside of normal hours.

The most important piece of wisdom I can impart on you, Michelle, is to let things run their natural course and avoid beating yourself up for doing too much or too little. Sometimes, we can’t plan for everything, and that’s okay.

I hope you’re able to reconcile with your brother soon, Michelle.

With love,

Leo