Lauren Agresti | Reinventing Rejection
Piece of Mind | Welcome to post-grad plans, where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter
March 19, 2013, 1:05 am·
Piece of Mind
If you’re on the Career Services listserv, you may have received an email this week reminding you to (please) calm down if you don’t have a job yet and directing you to an absolutely wonderful column published in 2010 by Juliette Mullin, a College graduate from that year.
In her article, Mullin describes the huge drag that is people pestering each other about post-graduation plans and comes to the conclusion that she is completely fine with not having any yet. After all, she points out, companies will still be hiring in a few months, and she is not alone in her unemployment woes.
Her story is a valuable one, but there’s a little more to achieving this sense of peace. It’s okay to have no clue what you’re doing after finals are finished — not just because plenty of other people are in the same situation or because the industry you’re investigating hasn’t posted the right positions yet. Fundamentally, planlessness is OK because the institutions and people that surround you do not define your worth as a human being.
At Penn, we have a tendency to compare ourselves to our peers. We find ourselves mindlessly constructing social hierarchies based on factors external to our actual personal qualities. Membership in a popular performing arts group? Two points for that girl. Top grades in organic chemistry? One point for her. Not tapped for a senior society? Ouch. No points for you — or Gretchen Wieners.
Those of us who aren’t really interested in accumulating the points still feel somehow involved. It’s kind of like that 12-hour Monopoly marathon you agreed to play with your little brother. He started irreversibly winning around the third hour but insisted you keep going until he took over the board.
Fortunately, we know that the scorecard gets erased shortly after we leave, so it’s not too difficult to ignore the game. But the funny thing about what happens post-college is nobody’s ever wiping your slate clean. It may still be a game, but it’s one that seems to stretch through to retirement. So plans after Penn seem “real.”
Real life gives us real anxiety. I had plenty of sleepless nights when I wondered if I was going to get 20 of the “small envelopes” from law schools or become the most ineffectual professional young person in all of human history. And then I Benadryl-ed myself. (Full disclosure: I recently got some of the big envelopes, and it was awesome).
The “not knowing” variety of stress was arguably the worst — right next to the “shot down” blues. However, it always helped me to remind myself of a few comforting — and indisputable — facts. First, rejection from a job or an institution of higher education indicates just one thing: you will not have that particular job or a seat at that institution of higher education for a little while.
When someone says no, it doesn’t mean you are stupid or incompetent or ugly. It means no, sorry, not today. And that’s all.
Second, the next chapter of your life is just one “yes” away. You can be drowning in a veritable sea of bad news and, in an instant, get a phone call that turns everything around. It only takes one.
So how do you deal with the crippling nerves in the meantime?
Ice cream. Just kidding. Don’t do that. Well, maybe do that. But I can tell you from experience that there just isn’t enough ice cream.
Start to really think about where your self worth comes from. Your grades? Your friends? Your Klout score? That sort of hot guy that texts you sometimes?
If it’s anything but a deeply rooted belief that you possess something of value to offer to this world — something that no person or university or Morgan Stanley recruiter can take away — your anxiety might just stick around. Living for the yes’s makes the no’s unbearable. So tomorrow, go do what you love, work as hard as you can and know that that is enough.
I promise that when you’re not waiting by the phone, it’ll ring.
Lauren Agresti is a College senior from Fulton, Md. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her @lagresti. “Piece of Mind” appears every other Tuesday.