After graduation, those two words lived in my mind, rent free. After spending the last eighteen years of my life as a student, I felt lost and alone. Some of my friends had jobs lined up, others were pursuing another degree. In a sea of three hundred graduates, I seemed to be the only one who hadn’t a clue what to do next.

Feeling lost and lonely after graduation turns out to be a common phenomenon. After all, life as a student offers many comforts. My hours were spent attending lectures and studying for exams. Spare time was spent exploring the city with friends. I woke up every morning with a set of goals to achieve. When I suddenly found myself without that structure, I felt lost. I was watching my friends go off to their seemingly “on track” lives, and I was filled with shame. Life felt very hopeless indeed.

If you are sitting here reading this thinking, “great, I’m not alone with these feelings of hopelessness, but seriously, now what?” Well, I struggled with that same question. Here’s what I did:

Practice Self-Compassion:

I had forgotten how to be nice to myself. I got caught up in feelings of inadequacy and punished myself for being a “failure.” I scrolled through social media and saw pictures of my friends starting their new jobs while I shamed myself for not having anything lined up after graduation. In a moment of hopelessness, I decided to try something I had read about. I started congratulating myself for the simplest tasks I completed and being more patient with myself. I made my bed? I’m amazing. I went for a walk? I am a champion. No job lined up? I’m figuring it out. It took a while, but I started to feel better about myself. Self-compassion helped me build up my self-esteem and recognize that I can figure out what to do.

Set Up a Routine:

I had lived the last six years of my life as a student with a rigorous routine. I had a certain amount of time to study, to hang out with friends, to scroll Instagram. To replicate some sense of routine and normalcy, I treated job finding like, well, a job. I set up specific hours of the day to email supervisors and browse opportunities. At the end of the day, I closed my laptop and disconnected. This allowed me to spend time away from the hopelessness of job hunting.

Try New Experiences:

I moved away from home for college. When I moved back home, I not only felt lost in my professional life, but also in my social life. I found myself alone at home, a lot. I would see events I was interested in, but I didn’t want to go alone. If you feel the same, I’m here to tell you that the best way to start feeling comfortable checking out new experiences by yourself is to take yourself to the movies. It’s dark, no one knows you’re there alone. Then I slowly branched into daylight: pride parade, space museum, the aquarium. This branched out into trying new things in my professional life. That’s how I found out I could not spend my life doing cellular research, and more importantly, how I found the passion I had for being a counsellor.

Discover Your Values:

What do you want in life? I hated that question, I didn’t know! Every time someone asked me, I felt sick to my stomach. Once I started seeing a kick ass counsellor, I slowly uncovered what mattered to me. and how I wanted to live my life. I found that I value time spent connecting with patients over time spent writing out medications. I value a work-life balance where I can continue developing new hobbies and relationships. I value gratitude, empathy, and hard work. Diving into my values helped me with the decision paralysis that came from needing to figure out what to do after graduation.

It is important to remember that everyone figures out the transition from graduation to the rest of life at different speeds. It took me years. There were times I felt I was moving backwards, where I was overwhelmed by the stress of figuring out next steps. I felt inadequate and as if there was no place for me in this world. If you feel this way, you are not alone. If it still feels impossible to get started, counselling can be a way to receive unconditional support that can encourage you to find a way out of feeling stuck and discover your unique path. It helped me; it could help you too.