Now What? On Postgrad Burnout

What do you do when you’ve just graduated from a class of 20,000 other students, many of whom have the same skill set and goals? How do you grapple with the crushing weight of needing to compete with thousands of other students entering the workforce? What do you do when the safety net of university life has been ripped out from under you?

To some, this might sound like a classic case of anxious catastrophizing, but if you’ve ever felt this way, rest assured: you’re not alone. Even if you begin mentally preparing for graduation ahead of time, you’re likely to deal with these same anxieties; the same anxieties of a generation forced to grow up too quickly alongside the exponential growth of the Internet. The correlation is that our generation grew up with the optimistic parental mantra that “everybody is special.” That’s not to say that isn’t true; it’s just that it unintentionally made our generation feel compelled to out-perform each other, and social media gave us the perfect stage to do so. If everybody is special, then logically, aren’t I just like everybody else? As a result, recent op-eds and think pieces have shifted to focus on the false facades we create for ourselves and hide behind online, particularly on Instagram. We feel compelled to present only the best moments of our lives, and in doing so, we lose touch with the person behind the facade.

By the time I graduated from NYU in May 2018, I had come to understand the meaning of “burnout.” I felt like I was in a constant fog. I had no energy to do the things I used to enjoy, yet simultaneously constantly agonized over the bigger picture of my life and what to do next. I had no immediate plans for the future, because I couldn’t even figure out what I wanted, professionally. I felt resentment towards academia in general — I was convinced that it was NYU’s fault that I was left feeling this way — even though it wasn’t anybody’s fault that I was feeling aimless. In fact, I had been feeling this way for much longer than I realized at the time. The direction that a college curriculum provided forced me to focus my energies elsewhere. The key to feeling better about myself — though I didn’t know it then — was finding creative outlets to help me refocus my mind and eventually regain enough clarity to know what I wanted to do next.

There is no easy solution to post-graduation burnout. If college was the final protective blockade before bona fide adulthood, then graduating is like a freefall into shark-infested waters. Some handle the change easier than others, but ultimately everybody is asking the same questions. What’s next? How can I be successful when I’m competing with so many other talented young people? How do I find out what I’m good at, when all I’ve ever known was school? I don’t have all the answers, but I do know what’s helped me to ease many of the anxieties associated with graduating. In New York City, there’s no shortage of inspiration to be found while you recover from post-graduation burnout.

“What can I do to refocus when I’m feeling lost after graduation?”

  • Take real care of yourself. Are you listening to your body? Your brain? Your needs?

 

  • Find inspiration. I suggest looking at art, and not just the kind you see on museum walls. Nonetheless, I’ll teach you how to go to a museum and really think about what you’re seeing, and how you can avoid the dreaded “art fatigue.”

 

  • Treat yourself. This is a temporary fix, but taking care of your outward appearance can help give you the confidence you need to getting back on track with your life. Supporting small cosmetics businesses, many of which are online and supremely affordable, are a click away.

 

  • Design a workspace. Curate your life with minimalism. Marie Kondo writes about how your living space reflects your mental state.

Find what speaks to you. A new hobby doesn’t have to lead to a career. But it can help you “speak yourself” — that is, to figure out what drives you — and sometimes that’s even more valuable than finding your professional niche.


By Firozah Najmi

Firozah Najmi (BA ’18) is a recent graduate from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where she majored in Art, Mediation, and Perception.

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