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To the students wrapping up their final year of study, who don’t know what next year holds for them, and are trying to draw every last drop out the last weeks of student-hood: You are about to enter one of the hardest transition periods of your life. I want you to know what to expect, because as transitions go, this one is fucking weird. And no one tells you so.
The student life we all live and love consists of very real challenges: with essays and assignments, readings and tutorials, parties and hangovers to time-manage the hell out of. But ultimately, there is a purpose: we’re on a conveyor belt, and we know where we’re going. We will shake the Chancellor’s hand at the end of this, and get a dope piece of paper that tells us, with authority, that we earned this (and paid for it); but primarily, that we are Able.
You are safe at university: studying is a noble pastime. But if you’re anything like me, and a lot of other postgraduates, you will find the transition from student to faux-adult to be full of surprising changes that no one prepared you for. I don’t pretend to be the fountain of knowledge when it comes to postgraduate affectation disorder, or postgrad depression, or whatever pseudoscientific term we pin to this phenomenon. Because shit: I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do, and in the meantime, I work in a bookshop (which I love; hi, Vic Books!). Regardless, this phenomenon needs to be talked about more, to forewarn us. No one told me how terrifying being plunged into the deep void of The Real Life would be. No one told me how widely the changes could reach. No one told me that I would feel directionless, and overwhelmed by possibility. No one told me that generating money, developing a career, as well as creating a life and future you were excited about can all be mutually exclusive, each with a capacity for failure. No one warned me that on a bus ride home from a temp job, out of the blue, I would be struck with a panic attack. The surface was fractured; and beneath bubbled a deeper and darker sea of anxiety than ever existed while I was a student.
At the end of my degree, I remember standing on my best friend’s bed, passionately admonishing the university institution for the havoc it had wrecked upon my psyche. “I hate being defined by my grades!” I professed, to her sympathetic nods. I needed to not be studying. After an affair with Southeast Asia, the true weight of reality hit; Real Life was ready and waiting. Having wanted to be free from university, I found that I craved the structure, and the self-affirming purpose-driven nature of being a student. Without grades, I had no idea how I was doing at Life; to me, the absence of successes equalled failure. I found myself desperate, asking my boyfriend as he ate dinner, “How good is the burrito? Could you rate it out of 10? Would you say it was better or worse than the other burritos you’ve eaten?”
I resented the psychologically destroying process that applying for jobs put me through. As I rewrote CVs and cover letters, time and time again, I felt reduced to a sheet of paper. I started to despise the language that surrounded all job descriptions. Surely there is only a finite number of ways to say you’d be a good employee. The words ‘passionate’, ‘flexible’, ‘skilled communicator’, ‘end-user-focussed], ‘multitasker’, all become words to describe something other than myself. The rejection that job applications relentlessly delivered was disheartening, and the post-BA directionlessness confusing.
No one told me how drastically my sense of ‘self’ would change: if the job rejections don’t reduce your self-esteem, then having to create a quippy one-liner which captures the gravity and banality of things to appease family friends and acquaintances who leadingly ask “What are you up to now?” will destroy you eventually. My particular fave (which you are welcome to use, and is a tried and true crowd-pleaser) was: “Just trying to be an Adult, you know how it is.” This must be matched with an expression, which plays out your ineptitude at such a task, and your affable nature. Because in these moments, you realise that somewhere along the road, you fused your sense of self with your role as a student. And that you now have no idea how to talk about ‘what you’ve been up to’, because, for the most part, you’ve been living a scrambling crisis; trying to find your footing on a floating world of failure and fallacy. And perhaps we’re all just figuring shit out.
Jayne finished studying last year, went to Asia, and grew a veggie patch. She has since been live-love-laughing life to the fullest, and can make a mean chili.