Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
I am a week away from my college graduation and I have been wallowing in thoughts, sinking in and out of mood swings, dissociating from friends, and nursing increasing anxiety about the future. Down to the roots, my anxiety comes from a struggle with finding my personal and professional ground after college. Two key words represent this anxiety — a personal sense of place and professional navigation of focus.
- Place: I am Nigerian. Despite, and perhaps to the extent of many realities (not stereotypes) about my home country, I have lost touch with the complete lived experience of Nigeria. Studying in Mauritius, an island nation that is in more ways than not, an oxymoron to my home country, I have become — as I never really was before — very chilled about life. For three years, I have been woken up by an alarm which didn’t leave after thoughts summing up to the word “hustle” and I have become quite slow and delicate in my approach to life and living. Hence, the awareness that I now will return to Nigeria, the place of my birth and breeding, after I have tasted a different kind of life — one that probably will be unlearned or adjusted the minute I step back into busy, rowdy Lagos — leaves me feeling uneasy. I did not envision, leaving Nigeria for college three years ago, that it would be this difficult to return. Then, the friends I made in college, with origins in over 32 different African countries, were yet to come into the picture of my existence. The feeling of contentment and chill that would become normal during my studies in Mauritius was then announcing its manifestation. Now, I have become aware of what it means to find a home in distant places, across international landscapes, in formerly unpronounceable names, and in the hearts of people whose presence could easily become digital ticks.
- Focus: Before these last days at college, I relished my varying interests. I took on every opportunity that came forth, knowing that I loved to try new things, that I am a self-certified “generalist” and that I loved being busy with anything that could teach and grow me. I took up internships that cut across all fields possible: banking and finance, monitoring and evaluation, leadership development consulting, marketing, and research. I got exposed to different dimensions of the good-old corporate life as well as the startup life. However, far away from the professional experiments were my childhood interests — singing, writing and acting. Of all three, writing seemed most flexible; it could seamlessly weave into the professional skills that I was honing. So, naturally, I enjoyed my marketing internship because it involved a combination of writing and diverse forms of visual storytelling, the latter becoming a welcomed growth curve. I have now come to realize, not too late in the grand scheme of things but later anyways, that the professional world is mostly tailored to specificity. My frantic and sparsed-for-breath job hunting has become a depressing gateway for questioning and doubts about the culmination of my diverse professional experience, especially as we live in a “resume first” recruitment era. That notwithstanding, I have narrowed down my wide-ranging interests to a spectrum of “corporate storytelling” roles within marketing, advertising, and copywriting. With this, I am grappling with the feeling of not being enough for the fields that interest me, a worry that I lack a strong and consistent proof-of-preparedness to secure a job within them. Despite that, I do know that it is common for recent graduates to feel this way, so I choose to approach this with care, intention, and acknowledgment, not from a place of negativity, as difficult as this can get.
Generally, I have been submerged in thoughts surrounding my personal and professional life after graduation. To fill in the gaps between “waiting” and “applying,” I have been reading a lot of online articles and books, trying to buy some time away from reality. Sadly, I also distanced myself from friends, trying to smoothen what would become our inevitable separation, and prepare my mind for the return home (alone). In the bigger scheme of being, I have not been in the best mental place, and today, I finally acknowledged it by sharing my frustrations with a staff person at school — a kind, relatable and strategic career placement product manager. At the end of our conversation, I realized that I felt less drifted away, and more in tune with my reality and my transitional struggle. I also saw a very positive angle to my challenges, a possibility that I could take some new steps towards navigating my feelings of displacement ahead of my return to Nigeria and addressing my struggle with professional focus and direction.
It dawned on me, at the end of our meeting, that merely expressing my frustrations to someone whom I trusted professionally was a step towards finally seeing the possibility that they could be addressed. Today, I saw some light at the literal end of my collegiate tunnel and I remembered that the last time I felt invigorated in the past four days was in the wake of a similar professional conversation with a user researcher who was having conversations with people around the globe about struggles similar to mine. Therefore, I have resolved to fill in the blank spaces as I countdown to leaving college, by talking to people, speaking out more and expressing the heavy thoughts that I have been carrying and keeping to myself which have weighed me down. Intricately, I will share, describe and explore the nature of, and circumstances around my anxieties, so that the full details of what my mind has conceived of what my life seems “likely to become after college” will be seen and perhaps, understood by others. Maybe, this way, I can get help, professional or personal. Maybe, this way I can set myself free from the hole I have climbed into — a hole painted in murals depicting heaviness, burden, and stress.
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