In the film The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock returns home to California after graduating from college. He has no clue what he wants to do and is slightly terrified that he is in the real world now. He knows all his parents’ friends will quiz him about graduate school or getting a job at his upcoming graduation party. Right before the party, Ben feels uncomfortable and anxious so he speaks with his father.
Mr. Braddock: What is it, Ben?
Benjamin: I’m just…
Mr. Braddock: Worried?
Mr. Braddock: About what?
Benjamin: I guess about my future.
Not everyone loves transitions. Each new step in life is a mixture of eager anticipation and reluctant loss. Every beginning, exciting as it may be, is also an ending, and endings make people sad. I have felt the same bittersweet mix with every transition in my life, especially bigger life transitions.
Some people feel stupid for being sad or anxious or nervous or whatever, there is no reason to be ashamed of these emotions. Far from being stupid, these feelings are both normal and important. They serve some important functions, even if we’re not always aware of what those functions might be. The trick to getting through these times of change – and it is not an easy one to accomplish – is to allow yourself to have the full range of emotions, while managing to stay on track with an appreciation of the moment. Celebration is key.
At Antioch, we are a diverse group; diverse in culture, age, school subject interest, and we will each process our graduation differently. Most likely a long awaited, and now celebrated, milestone. Or it might finally be the chance to move to a new area, or back to our native home. A lot of graduates will be focused on getting a job, while others wonder if they might take their education to another level, and some will take time off to breathe, ponder life, have some fun, and focus on personal growth.
“Everyone keeps telling me how I should feel about graduation, like it’s supposed to be exciting. I don’t necessarily feel those things.”~Cody Sabo, BA,Business & Psychology Graduate, 2015
Remember, all of these feelings – and others you might be experiencing, are a normal part of the transition process. As graduates we should expect to feel confusing, conflicting and even distressing emotions. Try to sort them out. Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself. If you are graduating, ask yourself if you really are not happy about a decision you’ve made. (It is, by the way, never too late to change your mind about your course or direction in life). But maybe you’re just frightened of the unknown and sad about leaving the comfort of where you’ve been – even if you were desperate to get away. If you’re not sure, you can always try something out for a little while. If it doesn’t get better, you can change your plans. But maybe it will end up being just what you were hoping for – and perhaps something else that you didn’t expect.
Neuroscientists tell us that putting our feelings into words helps us manage them; and putting them into words to someone else helps us manage them even better. Maybe talk to an older sibling a friend (lots of friends), an aunt or uncle, professor or teacher – and if none of that helps, talk to a therapist.
“Your life is a story of transition. You are always leaving one chapter behind while moving on to the next“
~ Linda Seidler
Here are some ways of being thoughtful to yourself while you processing your feelings of transition:
- Being with friends and being alone are both soothing at different times.
- Listen to music or read
- Go for a walk or a swim in the ocean
- Go to a museum or out shopping
- Take a yoga or exercise class
- Go to a concert, a play, or a movie, or watch TV (yes, TV can be soothing!)
- Surf the internet, text friends, talk on the phone, tweet, etc. – as long as it makes you feel better, not sluggish.
- Take a few bubble baths or longer, warm showers
- Get a massage
- Write about what you’re thinking and feeling – in a journal, on a loose page of paper – not, however, in a blog, since you’re going to be writing very personal information that you might not want everyone in the world to be able to see.
The main thing to remember is that your feelings have a reason for existing; and that once you’ve paid attention to them, they will gradually diminish. The soothing things I’ve suggested are ways to help them diminish more quickly.
And then you’ll be ready to celebrate (even if you feel sad at the same time!)