My book, The Pregnancy Countdown Book, is like many pregnancy books; it’s divided, not into chapters, but into trimesters. Except I didn’t have the usual neat three, three-months apiece trimesters. I had four trimesters in my book because I had four trimesters in real life.
The fourth trimester is the complicated, bad surprise that begins for many women on the day their due date comes and goes with no baby, and it lasts until the baby is around six months to a year old (yes, I know, it’s not technically a three-month period but ubermester sounded too scary ) depending upon how long it takes the exhausted new mom to get over a. having to flush that scary belly button thing down the toilet, or b. never finding it to flush, or c. realizing that despite that fragile, wobbling neck, babies’ heads really don’t fall off. d. being able to handle all the love you feel for the wobbly-necked creature*.
My book has four trimesters because I told the truth, in all of its gory and glorious detail. The truth, not just about the ups and downs of pregnancy, but about the hazy, disorienting aftermath: Coming home from the hospital with a bloody, bruised and battered body and the most precious human being ever created, and not having a clue about how not to harm this totally crushable, wobbly-necked creature, let alone get it to sleep for four hours in a row, and who was full of relentless needs, urgent demands, and even if he or she could have talked, would probably just continuing screaming and pooping out of the diaper and up his or her back, as both tend to produce very quick results when there are clueless and deeply frightened parents in the room.
Transition to the Next Part which Really Is about You
Fast forward about 21 years. Here you are, with your neck now firmly attached to the rest of your body. My God, look at you! You’re a grown up! You can go to clubs (although you still get that prickly feeling of not really being legit when you’re at the door being carded). You have graduated from college. How did that happen, your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles wondering? (Even you are kind of surprised.) No matter how well you did in college, and no matter how good of a driver you are, it will still seem a blur and a miracle to them, that you grew up so fast, arrived whole and unscathed to march onto that stage in your robe to collect your diploma and begin the rest of your life, which now, of course is no longer their problem.*
[*Except, of course, your life will always be their problem1. At your graduation, they may have been smiling and cracking jokes about being free of tuition payments and kicking you loose from the family payroll. Some uncle was probably gleefully reminding you, Ha ha kiddo, party’s over now…. as if working your ass off this last semester on your nerve-wracking senior seminar or capstone project, and having spent the last four years writing five thousand papers and taking five thousand midterms, and doing two internships, and working part time, and juggling classes and practices if you were an athlete, was in fact a party. But you probably are keenly, maybe even painfully, aware that your parents are still very much worried about you. In fact, they may be very stressed out about your graduation for reasons you don’t completely understand yet, and reasons that have to do with the deep love they have for you that is mixed with their own desire not to have to worry about you anymore, which may be an oversimplification, but true nonetheless, and because they do want to see you find true happiness, or perhaps some kind of satisfaction that eluded them in their own lives, but more on that later. For right now, it’s your graduation and they are relieved and proud. They are nervous. They are happy for you but stunned. There is the part of them that never got over your baby- and toddlerhood, when despite that belly button incident and the wobbly neck flopping to and fro and the fact that you pooped every time they tried to leave the house, you still oozed cuteness, adorability and vulnerability. You needed to be protected, and that is a hard feeling to shake, that you no longer need to be protected. But here they are at your graduation reenactment—happy. They are proud too. This is partly their accomplishment too. So let’s go with that vibe for now.]
Maybe you even managed to graduate in eight neat semesters, not counting a summer course or summer internship here and there, in the traditional four year, two semesters, classic college career—a paradigm that is still possible if you don’t fail anything, have a glitch in your financial aid, have a sick parent or loved one, get a concussion during practice, or work more than five hours a week in work-study job that is no more taxing than say…signing out the disks for air hockey in the lounge. Except it’s not hard to imagine that the eight semester, four-year college graduate, which is a true accomplishment, will soon become an even bigger feat that will require even more complex financial aid maneuvering, at least two-part time jobs, several internships, and increased sleep deprivation tolerance. In fact, you may eventually become an urban legend, like Tupac (faked his own death), La Toya was/is Michael, Coke recalled 2 million bottles/cans with the name Michael (no relation to La Toya) on the label, and Tom Jones insured his chest hair for $7 million.
So you did it. Yay! I’m sure that moment of crossing the stage or even just opening your diploma in the mail was a super special, what I like to call a “blue true inner moment of joy.” It should have been. Graduating from college is a major accomplishment. Hopefully, you got to go out and have a special dinner with family and friends, or even better, a full-blown graduation party, with neighbors, your parents’ friends and relatives dutifully handing over the cards that exclaim inspiration and funny advice like: Graduate, this is the first day of the rest of your life! or Graduate, Go boldly in pursuit of your dreams, but go! and then others that look like blah blah blah or the Sumerian alphabet because you are not actually reading these cards. You will read them later*, especially the inspirational ones, when you can focus and cherish the well wishes and advice of those who care about you, but for right now, you have cash and checks to collect.
[*No you won’t. You will never read these cards. Who cares? You will be too busy counting the money inside, planning and plotting on how much freedom from worry it buys you, calculating and recalculating on your smart phone calculator how long it will last 2.]
It’s fun to count your money, isn’t it? Just like Al Pacino reminds us in Scarface: It’s all about the money. First you get the money, then you get the power. So here is your version: First you get the graduation money. Then you get the job—any job—waitressing, bartending catering, retail, babysitting… just to pay the student loan, which is totally okay, not getting a real job right away. Screw you, Scarface; you are like so 1980? Who needs power? What does that mean anyway, to have power? Who cares! It’s the summer, right? You’re young, right? Why rush out into the real world, right? With medical technology being what it is, you probably have about 60 years of working ahead of you, right? Let the overachievers blaze in first and then to paraphrase Scarface again, you’ll hit the streets, make a couple of moves3 and find that real job, right?
Except WOW, the summer went fast, didn’t it? So you actually kind of need to find that real job ASAP because you are really starting to need that real paycheck. Not only do you have a student loan, there’s car insurance, gas is expensive, and now you have your own credit card bill to pay. (You try to use it ONLY for emergencies, but at some point your definition of “emergency” expanded so much that using it to buy Chipolte just because you are really jonsing for a chicken burrito and some guac and chips, now completely qualifies as a 9-1-1.) If you stubbornly refused to move home or you have parents who are trying to teach you to be responsible while you move back into your old room, then you need to pay the rent and buy your own food and things like shampoo, toilet paper and tampons, all of which is a total and complete drag.
So you get the real job. Then you get the thing called a paycheck then the power, right? Except you don’t have the power because (please choose all that apply):
- You can’t find the real job and you’re really trying, which makes no senses since your resume is solid (two internships, Dean’s list, volunteer work, campus leader, bi-lingual in German, and proficient in PPT), you’ve been practice interviewing in front of the mirror, but no one is even calling you, emailing you, or trying to investigate how inappropriate you were in eighth grade on social media.
- You finally found–with the help of a relative whom you are now beholden to, for like FOREVER–a real job, a stable job, with benefits, and something called a 401 k, which your parents are very excited about and you will figure out later, but this job is so boring and meaningless and you didn’t know you had a soul until this job started crushing it to bits, and you can’t believe how early you have to get up (like, it’s totally creepy and dark out), and the epic traffic jams you have to sit in, just to get there to have your spirit pulverized in a four-foot cube.
- You can’t leave the job that is just about finished obliterating your soul because you moved out and now you have that student loan to repay, bills to pay and now the MAN is messing with your head by giving you a big raise.
- You actually like your job; it’s not boring, the pay is decent, the people you work with a pretty cool and they let you expose your tattoos on causal Friday. It’s just…well, you can’t see yourself doing this for the rest of your life. Except it’s hard to make a change because you have that student loan and bills to pay and you just bought a new car, so you have to ask yourself: “Is this as good as it will get for me? Sort of financially secure but lukewarm happy?
- You realize that you can’t find a job, and don’t want the ones you’re not interviewing for anyway, because bad, really bad, surprise: you now realize you majored in the wrong thing, so now paying that student loan isn’t just hard, it’s an ironic, bitter nightmare of regret.
- You know that more student loans are the last thing you need, but going to graduate school would give you two more years in the bubble and maybe the job market will be better by then. (To see if the job market will be better in two years see #3 below),
- There must be something wrong with you because sooooo many people you know are getting jobs and even launching careers.4 What is wrong with you? You have no passion. No drive. You’re so stressed out you can’t sleep. You can’t get a job or a date. Clearly, you were not ready for this (this being your actual life). No one will ever hire you. No one will ever really love you either. Not enough to marry you anyway or have children with, not that you would ever want a wobbly, screaming, pooping, mini version of yourself—EVER. A huge mistake has been made and that would be that you were ever born or that your wobbly neck didn’t just fall off with your belly button and get flushed somewhere too. You are so screwed!
If you chose any of the above: Your ninth semester has officially begun. This is the semester that unofficially begins any time after you graduate, but usually by the following September when the other non-graduates go back to college and your younger brother/sister goes back to high school, and for the first time, you don’t. You may have dreamed about the sweetness of this moment, and how you were going to revel in it finally being released from the jaws of education. Woo Hoo!
But if it hit you as a little bittersweet, not as sweet as you had hoped, or just bitter, that is the nature of this surprising semester. Bad surprises will occur, the first of which is learning what you already learned when you graduated high school and started college, a lesson you forgot all about, because it’s human nature to forget, to always think things will be a certain way, and then you’re surprised to once again learn that you can’t really know what any major change in your life is going to be like until you’re living it and freaking out in it.
And leaving college to begin the rest of your life is even more of a major change than high school to college because it’s all on you now. Whether you have people in your life who are supportive or not, or people who are trying to control you, sooner or later, you know that this beautiful, messy, confusing chunk of your time here on this beautiful, messy and confusing planet really is your life.
So, if it Is all about the money then you are so screwed, right?
Another bad surprise: It really will seem like a Scarface world. It’s all about the money. First you get it, then you spend it, then you get more, then you spend it…blah, blah, blah. Yes, it will seem to be even more about money than the previous eight semesters. Needing money and never having enough will be, if it wasn’t already, will seem to be your way of life, and even your tax return will embarrass you, now that you can’t check the “student” box to explain why are you so broke. You may have already cut back on Starbucks, which is actually okay because you’re so stressed out about not having enough money that you had to switch to decaf, and you still can’t sleep. And if you are like many, many, many new college graduates, you are now the chronically broke, lukewarmish recipients, possibly clueless and/or deeply frightened owner of the rest of your apparently passionless, directionless life.
Important Intervention Below
Take a deep breath. Everyone needs to calm down about this. It is not all about the money. That we need money to be happy or to be able to pursue our dreams is not only not true, it is a lie. We know deep down that it’s a lie, research studies tell us it’s a lie, we know of people who win the lottery and yet become unhappy and even go onto ruination, and we know people with money or have watched them on a Bravo reality show who are living the money lie. They are total ass hats. They may have money and yet they lack self awareness and they do not feel loved, which is why they are superficial, greedy and selfish. They live out some version of meanness as bullies, phonies and/or posers. The one thing you actually learned in kindergarten and never forgot, and which was totally a bad surprise then, is that ass hats are not happy. They make others miserable because they are miserable and they are trapped in their misery. (Unfortunately, one of these ass hats could end up as your boss one day, but let’s not worry about that now.)
And we know people with money who may be nice and generous, but who are sad, addicted, depressed or unhappy anyway. Of course there are people with money who have self awareness and who are generous and who love and are loved, but they are the ones who understand or have intuited the money lie and don’t fall for it. Having money is not a bad thing. Money is just a thing that we choose to attach a lot of negative beliefs to. We give a lot of power to having money, but we give even more power to not having money, and that’s where a lot of us go wrong. We think having money will make us secure, but that is simply not true.
Nothing, even having a lot of money, is ever like we think it’s going to be. Everything that is special and worthwhile in life, every event or phase in our lives that transforms us is never easy or is ever what we thought it would be like. In our core, we know this, we know that life is not always easy or fun, we know that life can be brutally hard at times, but still, we are surprised, shocked, and sometimes even completely devastated when we are faced with the truth of our lives and the reality of how hard it is sometimes, just to be here, just to find the way.
But know this: You were not born into this world to be in perpetual stress about money. You were not born to achieve lukewarm meaning. You were not singled out by fate, luck, God, the universe, or whomever or whatever you think governs the ups and downs of your life. You were born into this world to live a beautiful, meaningful, and even at times a magical life. You really were. It’s true. That does not mean (obviously) that you won’t suffer or struggle. Suffering and struggling is a part of life too, and it often transforms us in ways that are important, necessary, and that we are even thankful for later on.
I like the birth and trimester/semester analogy not because I’m trying to plug my book (really the last you probably need right now is a wobbly-neck mini duckling of you), but because it feels true. Being in your twenties is like giving birth to the adult version of yourself. This is when you have to figure out who you are, for you, on your own. It’s your journey. No one else’s. Sooner or later, you have to deal with your life and what you really want.
You’re not alone. You’re not missing anything in your genome sequence that would explain why this feels so hard for you. You’re not doomed. This is just hard, right now. This happens to a lot of graduates right after graduation, and for many students who are still in college and panicking during the seventh or eighth semester, and for 20-somethings after working for a few years, probably more than for whom the opposite will be true. The mid-life crisis is a myth. We have crises at every stage of life. But wouldn’t you rather have a big one now in your twenties that helps you get on your true path, than waiting until you’re older, with even more responsibility, to discover that you want your life to be more meaningful?
Though I don’t know where your journey will take you, I do know this: You nature is as ee cumming’s puts it in one of my favorite poems: “a blue true dream of sky.” You can be happy and joyful. Your blue true nature is to feel meaning and connection. You may have to work to get there, by which I mean you may have to undo to do, but you can be there. Believe it.
More later… Next week…Why telling a young person: “Find Your Pasion!” may not be helpful (and this is what I used to say!)
Please let me know how your journey is going, and don’t be too hard on yourself while you’re figuring it out.
A Few Elaborations Below:
1: You will not truly understand, for better or even for worse, your parents, until you have a child of your own, which is partly why your parents want you to have children—natural born or adopted, they probably don’t care. Yes, they want to be full-throttle grandparents who will crawl on the floor until their knee-replacement surgery and be able to give the wobbly-necked, screaming creature back when it poops, but their desire for grandparenthood is also partly a desire to be understood. You really don’t understand how much you were, and are, loved until you love that way yourself.
2: Did you seriously have to read this to find out the answer is always going to be: Not long enough?
3: I dedicate this line to the students in my Public Relations course. They know why. (Okay, I’ll tell everyone: Because you don’t text when I’m talking and you are helping me “make a few moves” on the Kids Need School Lunch campaign I am starting because hunger in our schools is just wrong. Please follow us on Twitter @KidsNeedLunch. We are starting to work on our campaign now.)
4: Some people really don’t have a ninth semester, but that doesn’t mean their lives have been easy or will be easy later. No one’s life is easy. Don’t begrudge someone who has discovered his or her path or passion early on, before or while in college, or sooner than you do. Don’t use them as proof of anything. Some people’s mission and purpose in life is revealed to them early on for reasons that are not ours to know. Others of us (I am so in this category) have to struggle and are the late bloomers. There is a purpose and meaning in this too, and hopefully you will one day understand it, even appreciate it. Some of us will even enter into what is called the dark night of the soul (a true crisis of faith in life, in living, in God/Allah/the Creator/Higher Power, that often comes with a painful, soul crushing depression or anxiety disorder) and it will seem so unfair while others seem to prance off without a care in the world. Even this kind of deep and very painful suffering has a purpose. All suffering has a purpose. Don’t assume anything about other people, other couples, other families, because you don’t know the deep truth of anyone’s life. Trust me on this one, the less you compare yourself to other people, the more at peace you will be.
5: Do you seriously think I know if the job market will be better in two years? If I knew, I would tell you, but really, I am a person on a spiritual quest too; I am hopeful, but I am not a psychic. (However, I have had, like many people, some interesting experiences and premonitions.) But I think you should go to grad school out of love and excitement and intellectual stimulation and not out of fear or desperation for direction.