May 25th, 2021
It is a Sunday, May 9th 2021 to be exact, and I am sitting in an Olive Garden parking lot in the backseat of my little sister’s car watching a prerecorded graduation on my cell phone. The president of my university speaks first, welcoming everyone watching at home, congratulating us, the class of 2021 for making it to this day. Not only for dealing with the struggles of online learning and a global pandemic but the fact that many of us graduating today are first generation, the first in our family to finish college.
She acknowledges our grit and resilience telling us she knows how hard we have worked, not just in school but also outside of it, working full time, sometimes 2 to 3 jobs just to pay for our education because we had no one helping us through. Almost everyone at my university has this in common. We didn’t come from money, from families with college savings accounts and good credit to help take out loans. Almost all of us put ourselves through college, paying out of pocket or taking loans in our own names to fund our education, to give ourselves a better future. And that is what makes this day all the more rewarding and emotional for all of us.
From where I sit in the backseat, my sister and mother in the front don’t notice the tears I am fighting back. Not wanting to get emotional right before we have our mother’s day/graduation celebration lunch I turn off my phone and try to think about something else.
The last 5 years of my life have led up to this moment and it ended with a prerecorded video that I viewed in the backseat of a car. Anticlimactic at best and a bit unbelievable at the worst. Even now, almost two and a half weeks since my “graduation” it doesn’t feel real, I don’t feel like I made it. This unreal feeling makes it all the more difficult to be proud of myself or feel like I accomplished anything. I feel like I am just on summer break again and will be taking classes at my university in the fall. I hope it doesn’t take until fall for me to finally feel proud of myself.
Though I won’t deny I feel much calmer than I did only a few weeks ago, with finals and thesis edits looming over me, threatening my future. But now that it is over I will be honest, I feel a little lost. I gave myself a week to just relax and not think about anything, just enjoy not having anything due for a while. But once that week was over my mind was like “sooooo…. what now?”
In the past two weeks I have applied to around 60 jobs in my field, but even if I am lucky enough to get an interview and an offer for the first time in my life I don’t really know what I want. It doesn’t help that graduating with a bachelor’s in biology seemingly had no effect on my imposter syndrome. There is a very loud part of my brain that makes me feel like because I didn’t complete my degree entirely on my own, because I had help from peers, understanding professors and family support, I did not truly put in enough work to earn my degree. I know logically that is all for lack of a better word, bullshit, but telling myself that is bullshit does erase the voice that tells me I don’t deserve to be where I am, that I didn’t work hard enough.
Applying to jobs is a whole other beast. Despite finally being “eligible” to apply for positions that were previously denied to me due to my lack of bachelor’s degree, I still don’t feel qualified to do these jobs. What if they realize it too and out of the 60 jobs I applied to, not one calls me back? Or worse, what if they do, and I am hired and they find out I am a fraud?
I feel like I haven’t met or exceeded anyone’s expectations of me since I was a sophomore in college. And maybe that doesn’t matter because maybe no one has had any expectations of me, but I damn sure had expectations of myself. I feel like I haven’t been proud of myself in a long time. Even now, the victory seems tainted. Because this victory wasn’t a glorious first place dash over the finish line, where I had ran a good race, paced myself and came out tired but satisfied with my effort. No, this “victory” feels like a last place effort I ran the race, stumbled, stopped to catch my breath, maybe even injured myself, but somehow managed to drag myself over the finish line before collapsing in a heap. By this point the crowd has gone home, and I have nothing much to show for myself other than to say I finished the race.
So, what is next?
Needless to say, I think a very long recovery period is in order. It sounds dramatic, but in a way I don’t really know who I am anymore. I certainly am not the 18 year old young adult who started college 5 years ago, full of optimism and energy and passion. I feel like I know much less than I did when I started school, even though I am supposedly “educated” now. My batteries need a serious recharge and I don’t think I have ever felt so insecure in my life.
I guess what I am saying is I really need to (excuse the cringey phrase) do some “soul-searching” before I embark on this next chapter of my life. I want to find my energy again and use it more sustainably this time. I want to create, learn, grow, and teach. I want to for once not feel like I am one bad day away from a mental health crisis and instead use my time bettering myself and helping others, the way so many people helped me in my journey. I want to take action and initiative. Being in my head can bring me some pretty great ideas but they often get stuck there and never make it to the waking world. That needs to change.
I refuse to be a victim of my own mind any longer. I will not continue to let fear dictate my choices. I want there to be intent behind every word and action, intent pushing me towards a stable position.
I am worthy, and it is about time I start believing it.