Yes, it’s self-inflicted. No, I haven’t figured it out yet. Yes, I’m working on it.
In a recent mental-break down, my mother gave me a couple of hard truths, and I have never felt more seen. I was crying in a gas station bathroom, wringing a paper towel and disparaging myself yet again. She said to me “You thought you were going to be an immediate success after college, didn’t you? You thought you were going to figure out ‘who you are’ before you turned 30. Well guess what? No one really knows who they are, and certainly not at 24.”
Oof. Yeah, I did think I would be an immediate success after college. And why wouldn’t I? As an academic over-achiever, I had spent 17 years of formal schooling excelling at anything I put my mind to. I knocked high school out of the park, earned two degrees, and picked up an extra minor and a certificate in college because I was bored and it was paid for by the state. I always ended up with a leadership role in any club or job that I had, whether I wanted it or not.
School, and the activities that surrounded it, came naturally to me because the expectations were clear.
I derived my identity from the praise I received as a student: impossibly good grades, valuable contributor to class discussions, integral office aid in all of the yearly tasks that had to be completed, avid participant in preconstructed social gatherings, recipient of insignificant awards, sought out for advice by peers, whatever whatever WHATEVER.
If it had a syllabus, rubric, or social norm, I could do it.
As it turns out, life after graduation does not work that way. It is brutally unstructured. There are no objective metrics beyond being able to pay rent and feed yourself, and even those are barely standard. Sure, taxes are due when they are due, tags must be applied for, utilities are paid, and you work Monday through Friday (and sometimes Saturday and Sunday). But everything is pretty much what you manifest, especially in freelancing.
There isn’t a syllabus that tells you what to do every week for 15 weeks. There are no pre-arranged social activities for you and your friends to flock to. Your job expectations are constantly fluctuating. And then there’s the wild…