When I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, instead of feeling the joy I should have felt from having completed and succeeded four years of college, I felt anxiety. I know I'm not alone in this feeling. So many graduates exit that stage and, in the spot where the next step has always been laid out for them, there lies a blank slate.
I am always the girl who has a plan. Throughout my entire life, I was a go-getter.
I was talented when it came to sports. I was the captain of my team. I got into college, and by sophomore year, I was snatching up internships left and right. I worked hard for my grades, and I maintained a social life.
I was networking and making connections. I did everything right. So, how did this happen?
By the time my last semester of college rolled around, I was applying for full-time jobs after graduation. Some of them seemed interesting, but they were mostly positions I didn't want and, in turn, calls I never picked up. I listened to voicemails from recruiters who were saying they were impressed with my resume, and that they wanted to stick me into a cubicle of their own.
I went to my internship and stared at my cubicle, wondering if this was really what was on the other side of the stage for me. I'd sit at my desk, listening to my co-workers tell me, "Enjoy school while you can. You have a whole lot of this to look forward to." I cringed every time I heard that line.
The problem was, I knew I wasn't meant for that kind of work. But that didn't tell me what I was actually meant to do. I don't want to sound ungrateful because I'm not.
I've had some great internship experiences, and I've been lucky enough to work with some wonderful people. But I was not fulfilled, and I knew it wasn't the direction I wanted my life to go in.
If marketing at a bank is a line of work that strikes your fancy, I wish you all the best. But these walls were closing in on me.
When I walked across the stage, I still didn't have an answer. My gracious boss let me stay and work at my internship during the summer, while I continued searching for a job. But this is when things took a turn for the worse.
I was spending 40 hours a week sitting at my desk under the fluorescent lights, staring at the clock until I saw that it was 5 pm. I would then go home to my empty apartment, apply to some jobs similar to the one I was in, and wait for it to all happen again the next day.
I started getting physically sick, and I didn't know why. I was nauseous almost 24/7, and I could barely eat. Sometimes, I would throw up. Other times, I would just dry heave.
This was happening multiple times a day. After a few weeks of this, I saw a doctor who simply asked if I was pregnant and gave me a test. It was negative.
That didn't help much, so I went to another doctor to try to figure out what was wrong with me. We went through my symptoms, and eventually talked about my bouts of anxiety in the past.
It was never anything serious, and I had dealt with those issues then. But this wasn't like that.
"This can't be anxiety," I thought. "It's only physical."
It turns out, it was anxiety. I was pushing all of these feelings down with every "I'm fine" that I uttered. I was pushing them down more with every job application I sent out because it seemed like a practical position to take. I was pushing them down even more with the expectations that I felt I wasn't living up to.
I wanted to pick the "right" choice and get the "right" opportunity, and I was tearing myself up with every "So what are you up to now?" that came my way. The more I pushed the feelings away, the more I could feel the physical pain.
I wasn't allowing myself to think about it. Was it because I felt guilty for not being happy, or was it because I felt incompetent?
I don't know. I assume it was a mixture of both.
I was determined to combat my anxiety issues and take a step forward. I couldn't take another day of hiding away in the downstairs bathroom at work so that nobody would hear me getting sick.
I knew life was better than this. With the summer coming to a close and a natural exit to my internship approaching, I took the leap.
Within three weeks, I had moved to Spain as an au pair. I had saved enough money to get myself there and cover my student loans for the duration of my stay. To support myself abroad, I took a job tutoring English. The moment I made the decision official, my sickness subsided.
I felt so relieved that my anxiety had gone. I wasn't even nervous about picking up my life and going to a foreign country, where I didn't know a single person or speak the language. I just knew this was the next step in my journey.
When I returned from Spain, I landed a temporary job to save up some money while I was at home. I also started my blog. I dedicated every free second I had to writing, editing, learning how to build websites, using Photoshop and creating plug-ins. I figured out how to put my material out there in the best possible way, and drive users to my website.
My marketing experience helped me boost my site traffic, and my travel experience made for exciting content. I was combining all of my passions into one product, and nothing is more stimulating than that.
Now, my work is getting noticed. All I had to do was go after what I loved.
Your passion shows in your creations. You don't need to have a plan or know what the next step is. Do what you love, and the rest will follow. No experience is a waste of time, and everything you learn will accumulate.
When I look at where I was last year, sitting frazzled and baggy-eyed at my cubicle, I wish I could tell my past self not to worry. If I did decide to follow my dreams, everything would come together. While I can't do that, I can explain it to you.
Here I am, telling you you firsthand to persevere and follow your passion. It will all come together. I promise.
This article was originally published here.