A few days ago, I was hit with a spiral of thoughts about the future. Instead of trying to push these feelings aside, I faced them through writing. The following post features many of the intrusive thoughts, fears, insecurities, and questions that fill my head as I approach graduation. I wanted to share these late-night reflections to disclose the struggles behind my smile and presented confidence.
The purpose of this post is honesty and authenticity -- not to ask for pity. It's important to discuss the complexities of emotions as we all enter different stages in our lives. This next stage opens doors to independence and opportunity, but it also comes with uncertainty, change, and sometimes, loneliness. To preface this post, I affirm that despite all the unknowns, I will be ok. And so will you.
I haven’t even finished my first week of spring semester, but I already see that the post-college-grad crisis is creeping up around the corner. The questions are starting to be asked at Christmas dinner and friend meet-ups: “So, do you know where you’re going to be?” “What do you want to do?” “What will your life look like?”. Although I know these people mean well, each time I get asked these questions, I see a huge turning sand timer turn over. My heart skips a beat; my chest feels heavy. My head swims with a doubtful, self-deprecating voice: "your time is running out." Why don’t you know? Are you going to make it? Are you really going to get a job? How are you going to be successful by yourself?
Independence. The intangible thing I crave with every fiber of my being but also the thing I want to run away from the most. I want to live by myself, pay my bills and rent, buy groceries, get a cat, buy a thousand house plants, and try balancing a new career. I’m terrified of living on my own -- away from my parents (my two strongest pillars and cheerleaders), my college friends and found family, and the predictability of college. I’m afraid of making decisions because what if I make the wrong ones? The wrong job, wrong city, wrong address. I’m afraid of being a professional when I still constantly feel I have no idea what I’m doing. I try to act confident on the outside, but on the inside I doubt my capability and worth.
My cravings and avoidance of independence come in waves. Every other day, I am hit with a striking realization of my graduation date. This day can not come soon enough, but I desperately want it to take time arriving. Honestly, I don’t know where I will live in 6 months, where I will work, and who I will be. As a meticulous planner, these unknowns haunt me. This change carries unpredictability, novelty, and opportunity. I must depend on myself to take the next step. I am on my own now.
I need to repeat that phrase again: I am on my own now. It is challenging for me to come to terms with that idea. Even though I know I will never truly be alone, I must learn to depend on myself. I need to learn how to stand on my own. I need to speak up for myself and to problem solve before asking for help. Whatever lies ahead of me, the inevitable “I don’t know what I am doing!” must be followed by a moment of reassurance and reality check. I’ll also keep “fake it ‘till you make it” in my back pocket -- just in case.
Being a grownup is really hard. “Grownup” still feels like a word I am trying on like a dress I go back and forth on buying. Sometimes, it fits perfectly. I feel mature, independent, strong, and adept. Like when I published my first research paper or taught an engaging read aloud. I tell myself, “Yeah, I can do this!” Other times, after wearing it for a while, I notice its imperfections. These imperfections show up in moments like “Oh, I forgot to schedule that appointment!”, “Wow, nothing went right today”, or “Why am I so lonely?”.
Why do I feel like “grownup” and “lonely” are synonymous? Perhaps I thrive most on cooperation and being around people. Maybe it’s because I see my grownup stage launching with the first independent steps of a career. I establish myself as a professional in my field; represent myself in interviews; and act responsibly for my finances, health, motivation, and performance. Or perhaps it’s because I feel lonely at the end of the day. I hope I grow out of feeling lonely as I grow into a grownup.
These waves of loneliness and sentiments around independence will always be with me. Some days they will come and go almost unnoticed like a soft splash. Other days, I will predict their arrival and departure, so I will surround myself with love and coach myself through each crash. Inevitably, there will be a few days in between where a sudden tsunami will hit, and it may take a few days to crawl out and push forward. I just hope I will come out of these days a little stronger.
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This post was originally uploaded to Journal of a Future Teacher's Instagram page on November 5th, 2022. I thought it deserved a spot on the blog feed as well.
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Meghan Hesterman (she/her) is a child advocate and education blogger. While a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), she created Journal of a Future Teacher to share her journey in becoming an early childhood teacher.