The Unexpected Grief of Adulting: Why Post-Grad Life Can Feel Like a Letdown

Jul 07, 2024

No one tells you that graduating college can break your heart a little bit. Or a lot.

Sure, there's the celebration, the sense of accomplishment, the Facebook posts from proud relatives. But what comes after the last tassel is turned, the final dorm room emptied, the concluding “See You Later” (never) scrawled in a yearbook?

For many recent grads, the reality of post-college life can trigger an unexpected emotion: grief. You're grieving the end of what may have been the best years so far. Grieving the loss of the structure and safety net of academia. Grieving the future self you thought you'd seamlessly shift into being by now.

Turns out, adulting is hard. And it's normal to feel not quite prepared for it, even with that shiny new diploma in hand.

Here's the secret no one mentions at graduation: growing up involves a lot of growing pains. That first year out of college (or second, or third) can bring some serious emotional whiplash. It's a time of major upheaval, as you navigate new jobs, new living situations, new relationship dynamics, and a whole new sense of self. The tectonic plates of your identity are shifting, and it's disorienting as heck.

So if you're a new grad grappling with the “Adulting Blues,” you are not alone. That lost, untethered feeling, that yearning for the good old days of midterms and meal plans? Totally normal. You're not whiny, or entitled, or failing at this whole grown-up thing. You are simply grieving.

Grief is a natural response to any major life transition - even the ones that are supposedly "good" or expected, like graduating from college. And just like with other forms of loss, grieving your student years is a process. It takes time (more than you think) to adjust to this new normal, to mourn the version of your early 20s you thought you'd have.

Here's what grieving adulting might look like:

  • Feeling a sense of loss or emptiness, even in the midst of outward achievement and celebration

  • Being hit with waves of sadness or nostalgia when you think about your college days

  • Feeling isolated and misunderstood by family/friends who can't quite relate to the post-grad experience

  • Struggling with decision paralysis or feeling "behind" in life compared to your peers

  • Having your self-esteem shaken as you adapt to new jobs, routines, and responsibilities

If any of those sound familiar, congratulations - you are now an official member of the Adulting Grief Club. We're happy to have you, but we get it - this club kind of sucks sometimes.

So what to do with all these growing pains? First, know that you're not doing this whole adulting thing wrong if you feel wobbly and grief-stricken sometimes (or a lot of the time). Do your best to acknowledge and make space for the losses you're experiencing, even if they seem intangible.

Share your grief with other recent grads - you might be surprised how universal this experience is. Be patient with yourself as you adapt to this new stage and grieve the one you've left behind. Think of it as your first post-grad course: Advanced Emotional Readjustment 101. No textbook needed.

And remember, you are not your productivity or your paystub or your relationship status. You are still worthy and still whole, even as you're figuring it all out. Adulting is hard, but you've got this. Even when it feels like you don't.

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