By Michael Goode
So much of our time in college is spent identifying, preparing for, and obtaining a job or career path that, when we finally begin experiencing full-time, can be just not what we expected.
While many undergrads have incredibly busy schedules consisting of class time, part-time work/internships, and any number of other responsibilities, once we “grow up and get an adult job,” we can still be taken off-guard by the amount of energy that is necessary. For me, the 40+ hour focus and time commitment of full-time work seemed noticeably more stressful for a number of reasons. I realized it was primarily the idea that this job was the “payoff” for all of my years of hard work and struggles throughout college. Moreover, I needed for this new focus of my life to be meaningful. Don’t get me wrong… When I got job offer for my first full-time position, I was ecstatic! I later found it challenging, however, to maintain a level of energy that I never found to be much of a problem to keep up with as an undergraduate.
But what was that all about? Was it the long commute? The fact that I was now working more often than I ever had before? Was I just not used to working this hard? It could have been all of those things, but in the end it came down to the feeling that THIS WAS IT. I had achieved what had long been my goal, and now that I was there, it felt incomplete.
In 2008, author David Foster Wallace gave an incredibly powerful commencement speech on post-college life and choosing how you think about some of the more frustrating aspects of adult living (this description doesn’t come close to doing it justice, so be sure to check it out). His message struck a chord me with, and forced me to rethink some of my daily frustrations that I still experience from time to time (anyone who endures a packed rush-hour Red Line train will empathize). But beyond those day-to-day issues, the theme of “choosing” how to think helped me immensely with my feelings of worth as a contributor to society. I have always been proud of the work I’ve done, but my natural default setting (a term Wallace uses in his speech) is to feel inadequate and unfulfilled.
The simple act of recognizing this automatic way of thinking changed everything for me. Once I was able to identify what was going on, I could ask why. And from there, I could with a clear head focus on the mountain of evidence I had that what I was doing was working, that I was valued at my job, and that the opportunities for me to grow would always be there should I take the initiative to pursue it.
Achievement is rarely as straightforward as we can think it to be when we’re young. “I’ll do this, get this, and then I’ll have MADE IT!” Life finds a way to keep us challenged and in constant pursuit of something more. With enough time to reflect and personal self-awareness, this pursuit can become the very purpose of our trials, rather than a dragon to slay.