Exactly one year ago I graduated from Temple University. As I sat in the Liacouras Center for the second time (my high school graduation was also here), I found myself surrounded by tens of thousands of people I didn’t know. I felt alone. None of my friends wanted to wake up early for the university-wide graduation. “I made it!” I thought to myself. It was officially done. No more tests, matriculation, tests, more matriculation. This was it. I spent the first sixteen years of my life hard-wired to live a certain way. Now all of that has changed. I made it. But I’m scared as hell. This is not how they said the end would feel like in the movies.
The wacky Bill Cosby speech lightened up my mood and as the day went on I felt much less empty. I was reminded that this wasn’t the end, but a whole new Beginning. I was going to Japan! That was more than enough to celebrate about. I went to StuntLoco that night and celebrated with all my friends.
I woke up the next morning and it was September. Summer passed by and I was on a Singapore Airlines flight to Narita. This was it. The new beginning I had been working so hard towards. When I finally arrived in my hotel the next night, I breathed out a sigh of relief. It was all over. I finally made it back to the Land of the Rising Sun. What’s next? I could think of nothing. So the negative thoughts followed to fill in the emptiness. I began to question why I even decided to come back in the first place.
In both of these instances, graduation and returning to Japan, I was working toward the end of a highly structured path. I had to take certain courses, acquire enough credits, etc. to graduate. With Japan, I had to pass levels of interviews, acquire a visa, an international driver’s permit, and various other things. Growing up, these structured paths are everywhere. You do the right things in class, you pass the test. Work hard in practice, the coach starts you. Once you’re out of the school system, you have to really start thinking for yourself for the first time. Somewhere in the transition between following a path for your entire life and realizing you have to create your own is when that feeling of existential anxiety fully blooms. Here are the things I have learned to do over the past year in order to deal with the existential crisis.
1. Find Something You Like, Do it Everyday
This is one of the most important things you can do when beginning to establish your path after college. Some of us step right out of the cap and gown and into their dream job a week later. Others have to work a different job. Some of us won’t even have a job for some time after graduation. Whatever it is that you do after college, it’s vital to make time for what you really want to do. Working on a passion daily is one way to actively create the next path in life. It gives you something to look forward to everyday. Especially when you get those “gotta go to work” aches.
My passion is writing. Before I started writing seven days a week, I was in and out of phases of negativity and doubt. I guess I was somewhat depressed in a way. I enjoyed teaching, but didn’t look forward to work; I looked forward to the weekend. I despised Mondays. I wrote to relieve the stress, and then it turned into an addiction. Now I wake up looking forwards to whatever project I’m working on that day: Tales of a Ronin, my journal, or the Enlightenment. I’m not stressing about what to do next, because I already know what I’ll do.
Seven days a week sounds like a lot, right? But it’s really not as difficult as it seems. The important thing is that you JUST DO IT. Do what you like everyday. How long you do it doesn’t matter. Some days I only have ten minutes. Other days I have a few hours. It’s much easier (and more productive) to make a habit out of doing something daily. Waiting for the weekend or a time when you have a few hours free and then you gotta re-familiarize yourself with whatever you were doing. I open up my journal everyday and just get right to it. Fifteen minutes later and a page is done.
2. Don’t Stop Learning
Think about this: you’ve been in school for most of your Life. Whether you wanted to or not, you had to keep learning in order to progress through this path of academia. Then one day there’s no more tests, no late nights cramming, no classrooms, lecture halls, nothing. The institution which helped shape who you are has kicked you out. Now your only obligation really is to survive. Eat, sleep, repeat.
If you were like me in your school years, your were probably just counting the days until the end of the madness. Once you are out, in some ways you stop learning. Or rather, you decide what information you want to take in. You no longer have to take classes in a wide variety of subjects. Learning becomes a much more personal and autonomous experience.
So why continue learning anyway? As you start to sink into the routines of work life you begin to develop habits, opinions, and ideas reflective of your environment. My work life is fairly routine. I have the same conversations with coworkers, and do the same things at school on most days. It’s not like college, where each class I was exposed to new ideas and differences in opinion. Where each day, I had to ponder ideas outside of my comfort zone, and then form my own opinion on them. I believe existential crises partly arise out of a lack of connection between one’s own identity. One feels hopeless because they don’t value their individuality. Continuous exposure to new ideas and subjects well after college forces one to take a stance on matters. A stance which undoubtedly affirms that person’s uniqueness. Rene Decartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” I would say, “I opine, therefore I am.” You are valuable to the world because your view of it is different from everyone else’s point of view. Lastly, scheduling a time to learn in postgraduate life helps ease the transition between the end of your previous way of living, and your new work life. It gives you back some of the structure you used to rely on when organizing your day.
3. Cherish the Time Alone
Number 3 is sort of an expansion on number 2. I value the time I have alone equally as much as I value the time I share with others. As much an individual I’d like to believe I am, the more time I spend around others, the more I become like them. We’re all products of our environment in a way; it’s somewhat a human instinct to blend in with the pack.
Alone time is where you create yourself. Where you make sense of all the things in the world, and all the information you’ve been taking in. It’s when you work on that daily passion which adds value to your Life. You can spend all the free time you have around others, but at the end of the day, who are you? Simply a reflection of those people you surrounded yourself with.
4. Stay Active in Your Own Way
Habitual negative thinking associated with this type of crisis comes from having enough time on your hands to sit down and think yourself into a negative space. Over-thinking inhibits action. There have been days where I have spent hours just thinking about random, negative crap. I end up getting nothing done at all. When I started exercising and playing basketball, I found my thoughts to be much clearer. Overall, I just felt better. And I didn’t have the time to waste thinking about useless stuff now that I had these new obligations. The mind and body work as One. If you exercise one but disregard the other, the whole system will eventually crash.
5. Keep a Journal
Keeping a journal has become invaluable to me. A journal serves as a documentation of the journey. You can see yourself physically change as time passes. Journals also serve as a place to vent your feelings, rather than keeping them all bottled up inside. These bottled up feelings can be paralyzing if not released somewhere.
Really, when you have journal, the world is yours. I use mines mainly for reflection and self-development. When I write experiences down over and over, I begin to notice my behavioral patterns. It helps me recognize what I’m doing right and what I could be doing to change.
Well, this is how I’ve kept the existential crises at bay. Is there anything you do to help you stay focused and enjoying life? I’d like to know in the comments. Remember: Life isn’t a 40 yard dash. It’s a marathon around the world. While you’re running, don’t forget to take in that wonderful scenery too.