Leaving college: does that mean I have to grow up?
What you’ll do after you graduate is simultaneously the thing you think about most during college and the thing you try hardest to forget about
Photograph: Berit Myrekrok/Digital Vision/Getty
They say college provides the best years of your life, and what every student fears most is that it’s true. The world warns us to enjoy ourselves while we can, because it’s all downhill from here. Jobhunting, terrible accommodation and beans on toast will be the highlights of your existence once you have your degree.
It’s no wonder so many opt for postgrad study, to prolong their stay in the protective womb of full-time education. As exams finish and a new crop of terrified graduands bursts forth, the question posed by society and nosy aunts alike is: What will you do now?
What you’ll do after you graduate is simultaneously the thing you think about most during college and the thing you try hardest to forget about. You give the appearance of planning but are all the time hoping that while you’re still in your graduation robe your childhood dream job will scoop you up and – bam! – you’ll be a fairy-princess pop star.
As the college years come to a close you worry more as it becomes clear that you will not, say, be a bajillionaire rock god at 25. For one thing you’re 23 and have never touched a guitar. Now you have to face the real world and somehow figure out how to become an adult.
When you were a fresher college graduates seemed old and mature; now that you’re one of them you still feel frighteningly inadequate.
The good news is that you don’t ever have to become an adult. Because what we grow up believing adults to be is just a fantasy, a fairy tale. We believe throughout our childhood and adolescence the myths that adults are confident, are in control, know what they are doing, pay all their bills on time and enjoy eating vegetables.
These people don’t exist. Adults are just you and your friends but more tired. The guy who drank so much he fell through your coffee table will be a solicitor with a wife and 2.5 children one day. He’ll still be the same idiot you knew. He’ll just get better at hiding it.
I used to live with a girl who at least once a month managed to burn instant noodles. And not light burning. We’re talking smoke alarms and throwing-out-the- saucepan-type burning. She’s now a doctor.
It’s quite alarming to see your friends get real jobs. It’s very hard to reconcile your memories of authority figures like teachers and parents with the fact that you’ve seen friends who are now in those roles passed out on the floor at parties with people drawing on their faces.
The older you get the more you realise that no one knows what they are doing. The only difference is that now people expect you to know what you are doing. No one is really the calm sage we fervently wish grown-ups were. Even Dumbledore was an idiot sometimes. Not to mention fictional.
Where does that leave us “adults”? Although we all come to the realisation, sooner or later, that maturity is a myth, it is central to the future of humanity that we keep pretending. If everyone admits they don’t entirely know what’s going on, society collapses. Like Wile E Coyote, we can keep on running as long as we don’t look down and see that the cliff ended three metres ago. I’m convinced at least half the financial crisis was caused by people finally admitting they didn’t know what a hedge fund was.
Remember, while you pretend that you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing and that, no, those are not the glasses you couldn’t find this morning serving as a hairband, that you are not alone in your confusion. If humanity has a common trait, it’s bafflement. People never grow up; they just grow old.
But also remember that the scary grown-up things, like responsibilities, settling down and hard work, are optional. As an adult you are free to do whatever you like. You can spend all day eating chocolate buttons on a roller coaster if you want. For all the world’s expectations, no one really cares what you do.
But slowly, over the years, the fun things seem less and less fun, and things like sitting down quietly become infinitely more appealing. You’ll start to want the things that come with the responsibilities.
You’ll never feel like an adult, but one day you’ll look back and realise you have been one for years. Maybe that’s the scariest thing of all.