What Being An Unemployed Post-Grad Taught Me About Life And Success

It feels like just yesterday I moved my tassel and thought, "Now what?" Graduation is a beautiful experience full of appreciation, gratitude and nostalgia, but it's also a very anxious time, replete with worrisome anticipation.

I had no idea what I would do, but I packed my bags and headed back to my life pre-college -- as in, I moved back in with my parents.

We are, of course, all fully aware that our generation is coming into the workplace at an awful time. We're graduating into an economy that has no space for us.

There is no better place for optimism to die than on your parents' couch, watching our growing list of "Jobs Applied To" as our inbox remains quiet. As it turns out, post-grad life can be pretty traumatic.

It throws you from a community, constant socialization, intellectual spark and small successes to a more black-and-white existence of being either employed or unemployed. In the space between student and career woman, I felt totally lost.

Success was always defined as working after college, being financially independent and on your way to a fulfilling career. According to that definition, I was a failure, and I felt it.

In the months following my graduation, I had to figure out what would sustain me when all else fell away.

I wasn't traveling. I wasn't road-tripping. I wasn't writing or creating. I was just being, and I felt horrible for it.

We are never taught that we are anything deeper than our minds or our actions — in fact, it's drilled into our heads that our actions are exactly what we are and exactly where our successes exist.

This idea of success is dangerous. A narrow definition of what success means is only dangerous. We hold the “need to succeed” so close and so deep that it can shroud our souls like nasty, artificial skin that requires a deep process to shed.

Sitting aimlessly at home, feeling the dark pangs of depression, I knew I had to un-learn the associations that tied my self-worth to my accomplishments. Otherwise, I would lose myself in my feelings of failure.

I learned that yoga introduced me to a deeper layer of myself – the part of me that was worthy without dependence on my circumstances. For others, it might be a self-help book, a major life change, a therapist or a life coach. For some, it’s hitting rock bottom.

Whatever the process of choice, it’s about quieting your anxieties and listening for something deeper that holds the power to change your life. Ask the big questions, seek what’s most important and challenge your desire to “earn” your worth.

The most important lesson I learned is that you must identify with something solid and unchanging because your circumstances will always shift. You will cycle through various significant others, cities, apartments, jobs, occupations, classrooms, degrees, tragedies and incredible joys.

If you continue to identify with those aspects of life, you will have an identity crisis every time your life shifts. (Newsflash: It will.) The best thing to do, right now, is to start to find a foundation within yourself.

Meditate. Go for a run without music. Watch a sunrise. Float in the ocean. In the words of the ancient poet Rumi, “Wash yourself of yourself” to learn who you really are.

If you can find this foundation in the universe, and plug in to a sensitivity that can teach you the interconnectedness of all things, you will never feel lost or desperate for success.

It took a total lack of conventional successes for me to realize that when the layers were peeled away, I didn’t disappear. In fact, I got closer to my authentic self and began to touch a deep and fulfilling sense of peace.

If you find yourself searching for a sense of self, listen to the words of George Saunders:

Do things that incline you towards the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you--your soul, if you will--is as bright and shining as any that have ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Ghandi's, bright as Mother Teresa's. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret, luminous place. Believe that it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It