Navigating the Post-grad Years

Navigating the Post-grad Years

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I always imagined 23 as being the perfect age. It was the age I planned to marry or at least become engaged. It was the age I pictured my career taking off and blossoming. In the very least, I planned on being fully independent, having my own place, and living somewhere new and exciting. God apparently had other plans about what 23 would look like for me.

I turned 23 in February, but my life looks absolutely nothing like I planned. In May it will be one year since I graduated from college with a bachelor's degree, and I find myself living at home with my parents, working two part-time jobs at minimum wage, and constantly debating whether or not to apply for a third. 

In January, my boyfriend of a year and a half decided to end our relationship. I was devastated because it was my first serious relationship, and I honestly thought he was the man I would marry. It's scary to start thinking about your future with someone and then having those hopes shattered. 

I felt so lost for the longest time because the vision I had for my future was stolen from underneath me, and I no longer felt like I had any control. Friends and family kept telling me I was doing everything right, but nothing was working. 

My biggest struggle since college has been feeling settled. I'm someone who constantly strives toward for the next best thing, which in this case is a full-time job in journalism. It's exhausting living somewhere but not having it feel like home. From the outside, it looked like I was settled, but on the inside, I was everything but settled. For almost a year, I had all these desires in my heart to build solid friendships and be involved in my church and community, but at the same time, I was constantly entertaining thoughts of moving. I wanted to be plugged in, but I was never sure how long I would be in town.

It's a struggle wanting to plant roots but not feeling like you can. This was my battle for almost a year, but thankfully, we serve a God who meets us when we're broken and helps us pick up the pieces. 

I realized only recently that life isn't just about seizing opportunities — it's about creating them. I'm using 23 as my year to start over and adopt a fresh perspective on where God has me. It is time for me to become involved and find needs in my community that my gifts can satisfy. God will allow me to move on to something else when it's time. If all my job applications and interviews and attempts to move failed, then God specifically has me where I am for a purpose. And to disregard that purpose does not glorify God.

God has plans for me that are obviously so different from my own. My constant prayer is that God would help me be a light to those around me. Work takes on a new meaning when I recognize that above all else, my work is for the glory of God.

So it doesn't matter that God has me working primarily as a cashier right now because my aim should be to do my job well, to love the people who come through my line, and to plant joy in their hearts for His glory. I'm still preparing for my journalism career by developing desirable skills, but as hard as it might be sometimes, I'm also working on being satisfied with where God has me. 

Even though I've accepted where God has me, I still have to deal with frequent comments from people at work, including, "You graduated from college, and you're working here?" It doesn't help my esteem any, but I always remind those people that my life is in a transition phase. I don't want pity. At least I'm working. For some people, that transition from college to the full-time working world is almost automatic. For me, it's not.

How are you navigating your early post-grad years? Are they everything you thought they would be, or are you finding yourself starting over and surrendering to something completely different? Are you planting roots, or are you holding back because you feel unsettled? 

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  • I didn't really have big dreams after college--the future seemed like a black void where nothing was known or decided! But from my studies and networks, the next step was gradually revealed, and then the next and the next...until I only had 1 month after graduation before starting working full-time. I'm in a foreign country, which I didn't imagine, working a job I had thought beneath me for some time (English teaching--a noble profession to be sure, but I was critical of the "types" who do it here to simply pay for their booze and picking up of Asian girls). My year-long contract is ending in a few months and again, the future looks like a void...but again, I'm trusting that the next step will be revealed at the right time. I might marry my boyfriend, or something could happen and we might decide against it. I might look for work here, or return to the States and look there. The future is so open, so many options. It's too much to think about, so I tend to focus on the here and now. And the here and now has enough trouble, trying daily to live as a Christian in this godless country.

  • "I felt so lost for the longest time because the vision I had for my future was stolen from underneath me, and I no longer felt like I had any control. Friends and family kept telling me I was doing everything right, but nothing was working. '

    The first thing to realize is that this is how you will feel for the rest of your life. You are going to struggle with this forever. You will go through seasons where this will seem easier, and where you feel like you have a "plan," but even your best plan can go awry at any moment. We patronize and spout platitudes at people to try to make it seem better -- to try to tell people that if they're at the center of God's plan for them they'll have peace -- but that's not true. Peace is almost never automatic, and is nearly always brief. Enjoy the moments of happiness you get, thank God for them, and live all there when you're there because those are the moments that will embrace you through the difficult times.

    I hated my first five years out of college because I felt so frustrated, desperate and alone. Even when I had a career that I liked, even though I had friends I loved, and who loved me I was still living alone and my whole life was a great big question mark, that if things stayed unchanged was going to be lived between volunteer events and single baked chicken breasts in my small condominium. It was me against the world, and I couldn't shake the feeling that the world was slowly winning.

    I encountered those desperate feelings again, in the uncertainty leading up to my engagement -- we were at a make it or break it point, he was moving miles away and I had no idea how things were going to unfold.

    I encountered them again fighting to get my job down here, looking at the possbility of being long-term unemployed after working since I was 18.

    I am encountering them again as we are facing the possibility of another move, another career change and more uncertainty.

    But the good news is, platitudes aside, those things that take you, or me, or someone else by suprise are no suprise to God. When we are frustrated, staying up nights, screaming at the ceiling, beating the stuffing out of innocent pillows and pouring tears on the shoulder of a trusted confidant, he knows what is ahead, and whether it is more frustration, or a season of plenty he is there. And that alone is enough to move us to action.

    When I look at the Bible, I see a God of action who calls his people to action, even if that action is simply prayer and a surrender to his will. The years you step outside of the protective shell of organized education are difficult, especially if you have trouble finding employment, especially if you are unsure of where your future is leading, especially if you are dealing with the fallout of discoverying that "deep" relationships you had in college are just as transient as those you had in high school. But whatever your calling is in life, it starts with the call to keep. moving. To wake up in the morning, face the day with joy and defiance and determine to find the good (and God's blessing) in where you are, wherever you are. To determinedly and doggedly commit to being the person who lifts the people around you up, rather than tearing them down. To commit to being a better person today than you were yesterday.

    There will be days when you fail. There are going to be days where you swear at a coworker or cut someone off in traffic and give them the universal salute of frustration. There are goign to be days when you raise your voice and you miss a workout and you eat an entire tub of chocolate chip cookie dough by yourself. There are going to be days when you scream at your mother, when you gossip about a friend and when you lie to a coworker. There are going to be days where you question God, where you question your faith, your purpose in life and why you were born. There are going to be moments where you wrestle with scripture, with God, with spiritual leaders and with loved ones. You will fail, but you don't have to give in to your failures and let them consume you and eat at your soul and destroy the good that God is trying to accomplish through you.

    If you can make it your personal goal to strive and live for being more Christlike today than you were yesterday, and if you can do it one day at a time (not getting overwhelmed by the insurmountable standard of perfection), you will be much, much closer to contentness in the middle of a difficult situation than you were before. If you can put yesterday behind you, atone for the problems you've caused and the people you've hurt and start over when the alarm goes off again trying to be more like Jesus than you were yesterday -- you are living the life that God has called you to live, and maybe, someday, while you are trying to live as much like Jesus as you can, he will give you a unique opportunity to live out a calling only you can accomplish to change the world for the better. Maybe it will be what you always dreamed, or maybe it will be entirely other -- but it will be yours to nurture and care for and accomplish -- and it will be good.

    But you can only get there one day at a time, and if you live so focused on what that "unique opportunity" will be that you miss everything in the meantime, there will be so many things you don't see that you will never get back.

  • After graduating college and moving out to Colorado I've been working part time as well. Trying to pay off all the student loan debt with little work is tough but God has been faithful! As my walk continues to grow with Him I'm seeing new opportunities present themselves and I'm trying to establish myself here. It's not quite what I envisioned my life being at 26 but I know that God's got a plan for me here and that's what keeps me going strong.

  • Very true Ria, it is good to plan for the future, but you are right that worrying about the future too much is a negative.  :)

    I love verse 34 here for sure!

    Matthew 6:32-34

    New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

    34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

  • I can really relate to this article. A little back story I had always had a rough educational experience so college was no exception. Straight after high school I found myself whirled into the world of college having no prior pep talk or understanding of how it worked during some rough family circumstances. I battled to stay on top during that time as I struggled with Dyslexia and among other things "Depression" haha....oh dear. But during that whole ordeal I had no real idea of what God was calling me to or who I was. I had total lack of identity. Later however as I got older God revealed to me how he wanted to use me "blessed" right? yes and no....I wanted to do so much and yet each time I attempted like you did Amy, it seemed my efforts were thwarted away, (so wasn't being in christian music what God wanted me to do, i thought to myself). Nope instead God had me plunge head first into ministry and working and living under my parents as a missionary. And even till this day I find I'm where God has placed me. Sure it's hard, but it has it's rewards.......I think I forgot what my conclusion was. Oh yeah! I do really relate. Especially when God hasn't blessed you with a community to tap into for encouragement or your own peer group. It's a challenge I still face every day at 25 as of last October, I honestly thought I'd be engaged and married by now. But I have to give God all the glory for the good things he's done in my life. However I still find myself saying to God. It's been so long now is it time.

  • At 27, I’m a month away from turning 28. I was more settled at 18 then I am today. At least at 18, I was married, about to become an engineer, and saw my daughter every day. Graduated college at 22, I was about to launch. 4 years of planning, I had my education, a great resume, and ready to take on the world. Then reality set in and living a life absent of God’s obedience took effect. In a matter of a few years I went from having everything to being divorced, weekend visitation, and no job. I was on a downward spiral and turned my back on God. Thankfully, He never turned His back on me. He used those experiences to build me up, create in me a new heart, and new passions to do more with my life then just make money and success. I ended up leaving my job to go back to school (at 25) for Seminary to prepare my life for a radical life of obedience and service for God.

    Much like my life, I’m back where I began…. At 27, I’, a month away from turning 28, a Seminary Graduate, several years experience working within a church environment, running, and organizing ministries, waiting eagerly for the day that God sends me to what He has prepared me for!

  • I'm 28, and I was so sure that by this age I would be applying the skills I learned in college at a full-time job and living in my own apartment and enjoying my whole life, but that is not what is happening at all. After years of trying to figure out my ideal career, I only got my Associate's Degree last year. But now I am deep in poverty and have to move in with my parents again. I have to start all over again in a new town, hopefully to find a good job where I can apply my skills. I still remember being 23, and I was trying to find a good way to get through college and a job where I could apply my skills, and now I am freshly unemployed and trying to get through the post-grad years. I currently live in a town where only the richest survive and the rookies are mere outcasts, so relocating to an industrious city with opportunities for the young is definitely a plus.

  • Jorge.. that's quite a story, thank you for sharing. Even though your situation isn't ideal, at least you have a child, and I assume you're trying to make the most of it - and I believe those efforts won't go unnoticed by her later in life.

    To be honest, I feel like a failure.  Things are going good at work, but I come home alone.... at 33.  I wish I didn't feel that way but I do. I feel like I have a couple of years to turn it around...I can still do it, I'll be an older parent but I can stay in shape, really take life on.  I hope I can do it.  I feel like I've been robbed of my last five years...I wish I could do them over again.  Really don't have anyone to blame but myself.  I would say I sometimes cry myself to sleep but I when I get anxious about it I can't (and don't) sleep at all.  I have to call in sick because my mind's in a fog, and I just can't function much at all.  I just had to do that this week actually.

  • Mrs. Ashley ToF has already commented superbly, but as someone 20 years your senior, I would second the notion that our dreams and plans (especially the latter) need to be held somewhat loosely.  I have seen two many who are sure of what God's next move in their life will be...only to find that the road takes a big curve.  In no way do I wish for this to discourage you, but you have many years ahead of you (I hope) and you will likely find that nothing is truer than that famous statement attributed to John Lennon:  "Life is what happens to us when we're making other plans."  Sometimes we can look back and see a pattern and a reason, others...well, we'll just have to wait we get to heaven.  More and more as I get older do I see the true value of "living in the here and now."  I was also a cashier/sales clerk right out of college, and have held a string of jobs in at least ten different industries.  I expect to hold more that aren't related to my real gift, which is writing.  You may do so as well.  But to those who seem to think it's a comedown for you to be a cashier with a college degree, there are and always have been Ph.D.'s working as cocktail waitresses, etc.  Especially in today's world - so different from the 80's in which I watched others build careers and buy homes, etc. - the playing field is simply not what it used to be.  Your attitude and diligence are, I'm sure, a blessing to your employers, even if they're not or don't seem to be immediately aware of it, and are qualities that will serve you well in your future endeavors.  Perhaps one day you'll even use these present work experiences as writing fodder.  Everyone has a story.

  • Sorry, Amy, I meant to say in my last comment, "30" years your senior.  That's what happens when you get to be my age...the memory starts going...though hopefully you will not forget how old you are.  It's probably because mentally, we never feel our chronological age.  I may be coming up on 53, sugar, but in my head I'm still 21.  :-)

  • I graduated from Bible College last year and now I am finishing up a year of internship at my church. My next step is University. I aspire to become a nurse but who knows what happens next? After all, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." - Proverbs 16:9

  • Wow. Thank you for sharing this, I NEEDED to hear that I wasn't alone in my struggle post school. I've been battling with why I haven't gotten grounded yet. But friends and family have been doing a lot to encourage me and I too have been realizing that, God has me where he wants me and when it's time he will move me. Now I am just trying to learn to be content.

  • imagine how much worse it feels at 33, almost 34, when you feel the exact same way. when you're single, living in a rented room in a house belonging to people who are your parents age. when your body starts doing weird things; things that make you wonder whether you'll ever be able to have children, even if you ever do get married. as ashley said, welcome to adult hood, and the realization that many of your hopes and dreams will wither and die. depressing? yup. but true, for many people.

  • Amy, great post! Your story sounds similar to my own. I am also 23, a grad student though, and still at home. Not sure about the job situation when I graduate. My life is currently not like I imagined it would be thus far either. But I am learning that God's timing is perfect, and he "will perfect that which concerns me" Psalm 138:8. It took real courage to share your story and I thank you for allowing God to use your current state to edify others.

  • Great post, your story is all too familiar. I am 25, a year out of college, living with my parents, and working a minimum wage job. Some days I think to myself "this is not how my life was supposed to be," but most days I am able to remind myself that God has me here for a reason and he knows what He is doing, I only need to trust Him.

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