Its spring and that means around the country young adults will be graduating from high school, college or graduate school. As a graduate you are filled with mixed feelings. You look back over your accomplishments, know you “have made it” to the end, realize you have achieved your goal. Even so, you are nervous and scared. You aren’t sure what the future holds for you and aren’t sure if you are prepared for whatever may come.
Transitions and Anxiety
If you are looking toward your graduation with fear and anxiety, you are not alone. This is a transitional time in your life and transitions are stressful. Life ahead is uncertain and unknown. As you went through your high school or college years, you knew what to expect. At the beginning of each semester your goal was simply to make it through your classes. Each semester brought a sense of relief and a feeling of accomplishment. As a senior, you are at the top. You are the “senior,” the one who has gone through the tough times and have made it to the end of the road. But now you are faced with a brand new road, one you are unfamiliar with. You are again the “new kid” and are at the bottom of ladder.
Transitions are always tough and stressful but focusing on the positive, remembering the goals you achieved and congratulating yourself on your accomplishments helps. Accept that new situations and this new stage in your life can be scary but you have made it through all the different stages so far and you can make it through this one as well.
Losing Your Safety Net
Over the past years, you knew exactly what to do and why you were doing it. While you created your overall goal - what you want to do with your life - teachers, professors and parents helped to shape your behavior. You had midterms, finals, papers and reports to complete. You were given guidelines and deadlines and you just needed to fill in the blanks, follow the directions and complete the work. Now you are facing a different type of life, one where the safety net of having others help shape your actions and you are going to be on your own.
In reality, you probably haven’t lost your safety net. Your parents, relatives and friends are still there to support you, just in a less direct way. While you will be expected to take more responsibility for your daily life and your goals, the support system you have around you isn’t going to disappear. Keep in mind that parents, teachers, professors and other relatives have all gone through this before and can give you advice and support as you begin your journey outside of high school or college.
Finding a Direction
During high school and college your goal was clear: to graduate. How wonderful that you have made it Congratulations on your accomplishment! Now it is time to find a new goal in life. Your new goal may be to get your masters degree or to get a job in your field of study. Some of the stress you feel may be from not having a clear direction or goal in mind. Not having a goal can make you feel as if you are floating along.
Think about what you want to do. Are you moving back home while you look for a job? Have you developed contacts for future job possibilities? Rather than focus on your lack of direction, take the time to set a new goal for the next year of your life. Break your goal down into steps, as you accomplish each step you will feel a sense of accomplishment and lessen the anxiety you feel.
Preparation is Key
Lessening graduation anxiety involves preparing for your future. In the months prior to your graduation, set aside time each week to plan for what you will do after graduation. If you are in high school, much of this is done throughout your senior year and you may have worked with your parents and guidance office to figure out what you are going to do after graduation. If you are in college, take advantage of the resources at your college. Make an appointment with the career-counseling center. The staff in this office can work with you to lay out your choices (continuing school or looking for a job) and help you develop the steps you need to take. While the counselors can’t make the decision for you, they can talk about different career paths or options and help you find a direction. Be sure to talk with the counselors about your fears and concerns so these can be addressed.
For those in college, don’t forget about other people in your support network. Professors in your field of study can be a major help in discussing the different types of careers within the field and can guide you in a direction that is best for you and help you develop a plan of action.
Remember Decisions are Not Forever
Some of the stress of graduation is making decisions about what is best for your future. But with your future still unwritten it is hard to know what is best. Remember, the decisions you make today do not need to be permanent. While you don’t want to float around, changing your mind on a daily or weekly basis, it is helpful to remember that decisions you make today don’t have to be permanent. You may choose one type of work and then find you don’t enjoy it and want to look for something different. You may choose to move to a different city and then find it isn’t the right fit for you. You are able to change your mind and set new goals or choose a different career path. Keeping in mind that the rest of your life does not need to depend on your decision today can help relieve some of the pressure.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.