on 'growing pains'
I’ve been letting this blog subject drift lower and lower on my “To Draft” list for a long time now. Not because it’s particularly personal (or maybe it is?) or controversial, but because it’s something I’ve found to be so difficult to accurately express.
Everyone jokes that you always remember your first public cry in New York (there’s an entire website dedicated to it). Here’s mine: my first month in New York, with an untreated sprained ankle, on the phone with my dad in Union Square. This was a few weeks after I went home to PA to spend a night in the ER because I thought my appendix was about to burst (ended up just being abdominal swelling caused by stress.) I felt like I was at such a loss.
“What am I even doing here?” I remember thinking as I walked up the stairs to our fifth floor walk-up.
“I did everything I was supposed to,” I thought. Why am I being punished for doing the “grown-up thing?”
And, perhaps the more frustrating question, “what is it that I am doing wrong now?”
I had internships. I volunteered. I was involved! I stayed in on Wine Wednesday when extracurricular work needed to be the priority (the sacrifice!) I was a leader. I went home for Spring Break instead of the beach. I sent thank you notes! I got a full time job at a PR firm in New York! So why do I feel like this!?
All summer, I watched my friends’ social media accounts highlight their lazy days by the pool, exotic vacations and fun times. Whether they were still job hunting, transitioning to grad school, or granted a fall start date at their new jobs, there was one thing I was sure of: they were all having more fun than I was. (SO 13 years-old of me, I know) It felt like I was being punished, like I did my job in college, yet now I’m the one sitting at my desk from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and then going home to sweat in our AC-less apartment. (Yes, feel free to play the world’s smallest violin for me in sympathy.)
I couldn’t shake it. The comparison, the self-imposed social pressure and the reality of the post-grad transition weighed on me. Balancing a new, fast-paced job with this sense of insecurity made me crazy. I’m so lucky to have great friends living here, and also am fortunate to have colleagues I consider close friends, who patiently reminded me to take a deep breath, take a walk, get an iced coffee and get it together throughout those summer months and periodically since. (I tend to need tough love from time to time.) And my sweet parents and siblings who were way more patient with me that I would’ve been.
That was nine months ago and I just attribute the challenges to “growing pains” and move on. But after having more and more conversations with friends lately, and reflecting a little more closely on my time here, I’ve come to the following conclusion: post-grad life is just weird.
It’s different for everyone. And it’s. so. different. from childhood and college, where there were people holding your hand every step of the way and you didn’t have to think so much about the basics: money, meals and the big picture. We went from micro to macro with the receipt a diploma. It’s not just about our day-to-day in our college bubble, but now is about personal and professional development, managing finances, planting roots, eating well, exercising, sleeping enough (because we definitely didn’t do that in school) and building relationships.
In my mind, the “is it ok if I just go home and go to sleep on a Friday night?” or “I’m going to meet friends for drinks on a Tuesday! Because I can!” and “am I doing what I want to be doing long-term? What are key skills I am taking away from this?” variety of questions are just a part of the process. We have friends in grad school, friends getting married, friends with puppies and friends who can still barely wake up when their alarms go off. Some weeks I feel hip and fun, while other weeks I feel like I’m 80 years old. So be it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Things I’ve tried to remember along the way:
Social media is a captured moment in time - it isn’t every moment in time
It was killing me to see a beautiful cocktail, trendy sunnies and perfectly tanned legs perfectly framed in a poolside Instagram post, knowing that I was sitting at my cubicle under fluorescent lights. Things that may not have been pictured: the $$$ earned, saved and spent on that trip; the seemingly endless job interviews they’d recently had; the anxiety about starting grad school; a recently ended relationship behind-the-scenes, the list goes on. You just don’t know. That pic is one moment in time among an entire LIFE!
If you thought my staged brunch posts were part of my daily routine, I’m sorry to inform you that I eat chicken apple sausage with avocado on-the-go most days. (Maybe with some fruit if I’m feeling fancy.) I’m guilty of sharing things where I can be seen at my best as opposed to struggling through a challenge, yet I still live under the rock of comparison and envy when I go down the rabbit hole of my timeline. It really got to me last spring, when I posted this on my Instagram. I should probably print it out and hang it on my desk as a reminder of the vicious cycle.
Progress is different for everyone
I often feel a constant need to achieve, even when it isn’t strategic or meaningful. I’ll probably talk about this separately in another obnoxiously long post one day, but I think one of the biggest struggles for me was starting fresh and determining what success here would look like. Working with my teams and manager at work what professional progress and success looks like, thinking about what my nutritional/fitness success would look like, what financial wellness meant to me, etc. I know my specific situation and what I’d like my life to vaguely look like in the next 3-5ish years. But even that is blurry and dependent upon choices made and actions taken today.
Your attitude is everything
While my Union Square Cry was probably necessary (sometimes you just need to get it all out,) I think, generally, going into things with good intentions and a positive attitude will make all the difference. The days I leave the apartment with the mentality of “I live in New York! I have a great job, and friends!” still end up being pretty good days, even if a client fire drill pops up and I spill coffee all over myself. The days I was so hot (don’t worry; getting AC this summer), rushing around and so focused on one or two things were miserable in contrast.
We’re all just figuring it out
No number of #adulting posts really makes you an adult, so guess we should give up on that. But really - we’re all just trying recipes in an attempt to meal prep without getting sick of what we cooked (or we’re eating desk salads), trying to be social even if we’re tired, trying to juggle with long-distance friendships, and grapple with the notion that key phases of life have ended, and it’s on us to make the most of the working world and what we make of ourselves within it. So, yeah. Like my middle school boyfriend Troy Bolton would say, we’re all in this together.
It’s taken countless chats with and a lot of help from my parents, several catch-ups with friends, some tears, some prayers, some wine and a few long strolls through Central Park to get over the “what am I doing wrong?” pathetic mentality.
I love the quote at the top - reminds me that this city and its people are always hopeful and looking for that next adventure. If they can be, I can be, too. I saw it through the window at Tiffany's (how fitting), and had to share it.
There's always something new to learn, think or do. That's a promise, and it isn't a bad thing. Now I’m just trying to take those small victories and run with ‘em.
(Also… it’s also possible I’m just not great with change. Writing this reminded me of my first-ever freelance article, which was about the high school to college transition for USA Today College. You can read it here.)