Transitions in life such as leaving college can be a huge deal. In episode 297, I received a question from an individual struggling with finding direction post-university, feeling lost and disillusioned with the world. In this post, I offer my thoughts on the situation and discuss actions you can take if you find yourself struggling in this way.
I have had a lot going on mentally for the past year so I really can’t express everything in this small email but I will try to summarize just so you understand the background. I am 23 years old, last September I graduated from university with a BA in Film Production and I am feeling lost. The thing is that I was never sure what I want to do in life but recently it’s become such a big problem that I have suffered from really unpleasant depressive periods for the past year. I am not feeling like myself, I feel socially awkward (always have but now it’s even worse), I don’t know what is important to me or what I like and I don’t have the energy to do anything. I don’t have a job. I often find living difficult. Plus the pandemic and war in Ukraine are making it all even more pessimistic (I am from a post-soviet country so it’s extra scary and worrying).
I have grown up in a loving family that was always there for me, however, I started to realize that maybe they did things for me too often and too much. I wonder if I am just simply spoiled and the real life after school is too difficult for me (I am not trying enough, being lazy) or is it something else mental health related? I hope my question makes sense and brings some thoughts.
You don’t have to include this in the podcast but I just wanted to add: thank you so much for what you do. In the episode I listened to today you mentioned how if you don’t think you are worth getting better, you should think about how it would affect your loved ones and it made my mind shift so drastically. I have a very loving supportive partner of almost 3 years and he often mentions therapy but is not pushy since it’s my decision to make. I am not sure why but I was having such a hard time reaching out to a therapist (I have done it before), but now I finally added it to my to-do list. I hope for the best! I am ready to heal!
I think that you are in a place that is probably relatable for many people. You have the interesting background of coming from a post-soviet country, so it is totally valid for the global climate and the current war to impact you. I’ve talked about this before, but in a number of ways, things like the pandemic do impact everyone. Even if your personal life is relatively unimpacted, there are still subtle ways that you see the impacts. In changes to work and school, in the attitudes of people around you, in conflicts with friends or family, in the unavailability of housing or jobs. It creates a subtle air of uncertainty that magnifies the difficulties with direction or identity that you may already be feeling.
In general, what you are experiencing is SUPER common in college-age people. Sometimes it’s even referred to as a quarter-life crisis. It’s a feeling of directionlessness or panic that comes from leaving the relative safe-haven of the college experience and being expected to know what the hell you want to do with your life now. To have a very clear sense of purpose or direction in your early 20s is not totally common, and in some ways developmentally inappropriate. Your brain is barely starting to finish development at that point and you likely have not had the experiences you need to fully clarify what you want out of life.
Now, there could absolutely be mental health issues in the mix. It’s a little difficult to discriminate which came first. Whether the mental health issues have developed due to the difficulties that you have experienced, the state of the world etc. or if the mental health issues were the driver for the difficulties that you’ve experienced. At a certain level, it doesn’t really matter. Even if your depression is purely reactionary – it still counts.
Okay, so a few things to mention here.
First off, you are SO young. You have a ton of time to figure things out. I know people in their 30s and 40s or even older that are still unsure about whether they are on the right track and that deal with serious imposter syndrome. I am proud of you for considering whether it might be helpful to see a therapist. I think that in your position, it could be really helpful. A life transition like this is the perfect time to get hooked up with a therapist. They can help you find ways to cope with the depressive symptoms that have come up. You also have a great platform to talk about some of the big existential questions that you might be struggling with. Things that you may feel dumb about feeling. You don’t have to be ashamed in that setting. You can explore and brainstorm together. Lastly, they can be a great source of accountability for you. They can help push you to take action, which is likely one of the only things that will actually get you out of this funk. Rather than changing your thoughts and letting that drive you to behavioral change, whenever possible, changing your actions is more likely to help your mind catch up and reinterpret things.
One of the unfortunate things about depression is that it’s really inefficient. You lose a lot of time to it. It just seems to disappear. You may feel guilty about taking more time and putting more effort into figuring out what you want to do with your life given that you have already gone all the way through a degree etc. However, if you consider where you are right now, think about how much time is being lost to depression. To spacing out. To not doing anything because you feel guilty about not doing anything – it’s paralyzing.
Sample, Sample, Sample
Right now, you need to be sampling and learning. Taking your direction into your own hands. You don’t need to know everything right now, but you do need to start approaching rather than avoiding. You need to start pushing yourself to try things. If possible, finding mentors in fields or positions that you are interested in would be very helpful. Offering to pay someone for their time with money or with your own effort can set you apart from other people just wanting to pick their brains for nothing in return. Again, this is going to have to come from action. Right now, you are in a bit of a loop of reacting to your own behaviors or lack of behaviors. You are getting bummed about the fact that you feel like you haven’t done enough for yourself and in service of your future. But those feelings about not taking action are leading you to feel unmotivated. I hear the motivation in what you wrote. You said that you are ready to heal, so it’s going to take a leap to break that cycle and start taking action.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of the theory of learned helplessness, but it’s relevant here. They did experiments that were terrible. They essentially trained dogs to be depressed and apathetic. In your situation, you are feeling like things have been stagnant or unsure for so long that you are starting to fight against hopelessness that change is actually possible. It’s totally fine that you’ve been down. It’s an understandable and predictable reaction. But now it’s time to take some action. Maybe you have inherited some unrealistic expectations of how life works given your background with your family. It happens to a lot of people. Not much you can do about that. You are now in a phase of your life where you get to reclaim that and take some personal responsibility. You get to make up for that lack of learning that you didn’t have back then.
Find a work and explore
Your job right now is to first off start working. Find a job. Any job. It doesn’t matter if it’s related to your degree or not. You just need to get yourself doing something. Start getting on a schedule. Start making some money. If you are in a position where you don’t have many expenses, that’s awesome. You can save that money or dump it into further learning experiences. This doesn’t have to be a job you’re passionate about. It’s very much a means to an end. Just get some degree of regulation in your life and get a paycheck.
Then you need to explore. Sample things and learn. If you have an opportunity to help a friend out with their work, do it. If you see a job that seems better suited for the one that you end up getting, jump ship and go work there. If you have an opportunity to take a class or a seminar that seems interesting to you, do it. It may seem self-indulgent or like a waste of time, but it’s not. This is just the next phase for you. This is also why I suggest getting a job. You can fund some of these experiences. Take in tons of information. There are books, podcasts, videos, webinars, etc. Sample and sample and sample until you start getting a better idea of what clicks. Along the way, you might meet some people that help out. A lot of people are very sensitive to the idea of working or interning for free – you are allowed to have that feeling. But if there is someone that you would like to glean information from like a mentor, it’s reasonable that they are going to want something back in return because they probably have a lot of people that are asking them for attention or to “pick their brain.” So, think of how you might be able to provide them value. You could try and abandon 10 different jobs and projects from here and find your way to a great spot in your life. You will gain skills and learn important insights every step along the way.
There is one particular influencer that I would have you check out if you aren’t already following. His name is Gary Vaynerchuk. He runs a large ad agency, but also has about a gazillion other projects. He gives out a TON of free content on youtube, social media etc. Much of what he focuses on is the fact that you have time to figure things out. You have time. You can make mistakes. I also wonder if he in particular would resonate with you because he is originally from Belarus. Not every single thing he does or says is awesome, but I think there’s a good chance that you would be inspired by his content and it may even give you some thoughts about directions to look in.
So, those are my thoughts for you. The situation is common and honestly somewhat uncomplicated. When I say uncomplicated, I don’t mean that it’s easy. If it was, you’d already be moving forward. But there isn’t a whole lot more to figure out here. You need to start taking action. Therapy can help you get to a place where you are more able to take action. You don’t have to have your shit together. It’s totally fine. You do need to find a way to stop letting the beating up on yourself keep you from taking steps in that direction though. You got this.
You can listen to this on Episode 297 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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