What I learned from 2011: Twenty-something #angst and graduation

In romcoms, a year of stagnancy can be portrayed by focusing on a stationary object – a window, maybe some flowers – and showing it get snowed on, rained on, sunshine-d on – the seasons cross-dissolving. If I were to liken my 2011 to a romcom, something an unemployed over-thinker like myself likes to call a past-time, this would not be one of those years.

In 2011 I graduated university. I got my first “real” job and subsequently lost it. I sat in Berlin’s Marlene Dietrich Square, drank over-priced Pimm’s on a sidewalk patio in London and waved to cows in rural Switzerland. I fell out of love, experienced my first heartbreak and (slowly, surely) got over it. This wasn’t a montage year, this was the damn movie. But, like any predictable, intellectually non-enriching and morally vacant romcom, this year doesn’t feel like it has left me any wiser.

Graduating university is something I’ve been dreading since I was 11. I remember counting the years on my fingers, sighing that – phew! – I had about ten years to go before I had to face the real world. I thought back on this moment frequently in my final year of university, chuckling at the problems of my eleven-year-old self (boys ignoring me, the eternal wait for breasts) as I faced my current crisis: a big, resounding “now what?” that had impolitely formed over my head like a rain cloud hanging over Charlie Brown on a bad day. I thought watching The Graduate would shed some light on the matter, but all that resulted was a week of whistling Mrs. Robinson.

There’s nothing more anti-climactic than trying to find a job. Unsurprisingly, I expected the Hollywood job-getting montage. You know, where a series of well-suited 1% types laugh in the job-seeking protagonist’s face, until finally the scene ends with a triumphant handshake. In reality, all job-seeking is is spending three hours a day refreshing various job sites, shuddering at the sound of your own cover letter and, if it’s a summer in Toronto as my six-week tenure of unemployment was, it’s a lot of park-dwelling and drinking $7 wine. Lesson: there are worse things than being unemployed during the summer.

I already knew that my first post-grad job wouldn’t be some grandiose position in which I get to go to Paris and yell at interns, but I learned that all over again when my first writing job was fairly limited to writing press releases. “It’s good use of your journalism degree,” a sarcastic Toronto Life writer told me at a party once. My face slid into a wallowing, somewhat vodka-induced pout and we changed the subject. The job lasted five months until layoffs got the better of me and I was back to square one. It’s easy to feel like you’re in a dead-end after something like that happens, especially before the holidays knowing that 2012 will begin with an uphill battle.

Our early twenties come with a confusing side of angst, just like our teens did. (If you’re not convinced, read Thought Catalog.) My now-balanced hormones prevent me from addressing this by sitting in my basement blubbering to Bright Eyes, but non-executed five-year plans and missed deadlines mean an air of pressure and uncertainty is still reverberating. Maybe I’m smarter now than I was in 2010, but nothing has been “figured out.” Someone once tweeted dreading turning twenty because “20 is the new 30.” (That one obviously resulted with a swift unfollow.) Two really smart ladies individually told me not to rush it. Things really do fall into place, even if it’s not going as fast as I’d like it to. It might have been one of the biggest things I learned this year. Y’know, that and stop comparing my life to romcoms.

-Elli Stuhler @ellistuhler

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