Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The five stages of post-collegiate grief

I loved school. My attendance, even of my Friday morning Spanish class freshman year, was shockingly close to 100%. I even got all misty eyed on the last day of my History of Mass Communications lecture when my professor recited a list of famous broadcast journalists’ final sign-offs. I’m not kidding. Best. Professor. Ever. Anyway, three years out, I’m still a tad heartsick over it, and I think it’s because I haven’t properly grieved the loss of student life—I guess because there’s always the fantasy of going back. But it is a fantasy because everyone knows a return is never the same as undergrad. And besides, I realized after thinking about it that I have grieved, so it’s time to get over it already. To put it in writing, here were the five stages, probably not as universal as the original model, but perhaps helpful to other befuddled members of my generation:

1. Denial: “Summer is for relaxing.” For many, the summer after graduation is the last summer vacation, the summer of denial. Since my lease went until the August after I graduated, I decided I’d pretend I was a student (interning at a local paper and magazine for free and waitressing for actual money) until my landlord forced me to leave. Other students I knew, i.e. finance majors, were interviewing and securing jobs months in advance of our looming graduation date—I can’t speak for all of them, but I do know at least one who scheduled a post-July 4 start date so he could enjoy some summer freedom before succumbing to reality. I would say that's a bit of denial as well.

2. Anger: “But, but I thought I was special!” This stage I blame not on my generation (naturally...), but on a man named John Vasconcellos, leader of the self-esteem movement responsible for producing the throng of delusional Generation Me-ers who experienced a rude awakening after the graduation parties were over. Following 16 years of compliment collages, Student Stars of the Month and purple participation ribbons, we were suddenly told to stop thinking we were so damn special. And that hurt our feelings. My mom and my second grade teacher said I could be anything I wanted—President of the United States!—but as it turned out, all I was qualified to do was edit articles about wastewater management. Part time. For an hourly wage and dose of sexual harassment comparable to what I had received serving boots of beer to drunk college students and bachelor parties. WTF?

3. Bargaining: “Just let me live to cash out my 401k, and I’ll stop feministing during client breakfasts and team meetings.” At some point perpetual anger just becomes too exhausting to carry around all day. This was when I traded in abstract goals like self fulfillment and making the world a better place for concrete goals like self preservation and making it to happy hour. Instead of critiquing or making fun of office politics, I decided it might do my pocketbook and psyche some good to learn how to play The Man's game.

4. Depression: “Shoot. What does buy happiness then?” After spending some time preoccupied with studying this new culture, I began to suspect office politics are a bit too much like student council politics: pretty much a popularity contest filled with a lot of empty promises candidates don't actually have the power to keep. And just like in junior high school, I suspected my allies liked me for the wrong reasons. Without the energy to revert back to anger...

5. Acceptance: “If it was easy, they wouldn't call it work!” When I was in school, I thought optimism was for people who were too stupid and/or superficial to realize how f-ed up the world is (maybe a natural inclination ... maybe a view I stole from Candide). But then I had to become a productive member of that world, and I realized I couldn't afford to be a pessimist anymore, emotionally or monetarily. And thanks to many a lecture on atrocities around the world, I felt too guilty to wallow too long in my white, middle class pity party. So I decorated my cubicle with inspirational quotes, and decorated my inspirational quotes with shiny stickers, and accepted work for what it is: work. Some of it's humbling, some of it's mind-numbing, some of it's frustrating—and if you're lucky and/or motivated enough, some of it can be interesting—even rewarding. And at the end of the day it's work, not your whole life—plus you can go home and blog about whatever you want!


Abby said...

Wow...who is this semi-optimistic person and what has she done with my friend?

dan said...

Enjoy your summer after graduation!
It's so hard to get vacation time after, so travel and see the world!

Anonymous said...

Sob . . . my baby's all grown up!

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