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Living up to the pressures of your early 20s is fighting a losing battle

Words by Mallory Pace


I just submitted the last assignment of my college career and I don’t feel any different, except for the constant pit in my stomach caused by the fact that each day I grow closer to graduation. I’m cynical and worrisome by nature, so it’s no shock that graduating college has brought me more anxiety than excitement, but reality is creeping in faster than I anticipated. I always thought I’d have everything figured out by now, so I saved all my earlier problems for later me. Well, it’s later and I still don’t know what my future holds, and that’s a scary feeling. But the more I dwell on it, which seems to be a lot these days, I come to the same conclusion: I’ll never have it all figured out. 


I started college at the peak of COVID-19. I was the first high school class to not have a proper graduation and then the first freshman college class to be completely remote. I quickly understood why college was made for making mistakes because boy did I make a lot of them that first year. I slept in too much, took more care of my cat than myself and constantly cried myself to sleep over a combination of grieving my childhood and fearing adulthood. It sounds dramatic, but it was my first time away from home and the last time I’d be considered a kid again, even if I still felt like one. As time does to most things, I eventually pulled myself out of the whirlpool of self-pity, fingers pruned with doubt and insecurity, and I kept going. I started taking classes seriously, focused on being present and reminded myself to be grateful. Thank you, therapy. 


Then I blinked. And suddenly three years went by before I could open my eyes again. 


We place so much pressure on the time period directly after college. For four years I’ve tasted unlimited freedom and a break from the chains of societal expectations because when you’re in college, no one really expects anything from you. College encourages you to try new things, step outside your comfort zone and make a million mistakes along the way. Then one day you’re sitting in a Starbucks, hyper-caffeinated and underfed, and you press submit on the final chapter of college. Just like that, it’s over. Now, the world tells you, get a job, make enough money to survive, contribute to society and prepare to do it for the rest of your life. What?!?!? 


And that brings us to now. Inching toward the infamous and horribly abstract “real-world” while wondering where the time went. I will always cherish my college days, but I now have no choice but to keep moving forward. Quick question, though: where is forward and how do I get there? Can someone drop a pin or send me directions?


Seriously though, what does life look like with no classes, research papers and tests? How will I measure my success without GPA or transcript? Plus, I actually have to pay back these student loans?! The uncertainty of life after college is daunting and as I mentioned, abstract. I went from four years of structure, rules and expectations, and now, poof, it’s gone. I know I’m not alone in these feelings, and while that does bring me comfort, it doesn’t lessen the load of living up to my own expectations. I want a life of security, prosperity, happiness and meaning, but how do I achieve it? Unfortunately, there is no one answer, but that might actually be the best answer I could ask for. I think the more I look for what a happy, fulfilling life should look like, the more I’ll reach dissatisfaction. 


I’m a chronic overthinker, which causes me to constantly worry if I’m making the wrong decisions in life. The irony in that is no one knows which decision is the right one until it’s made. Sure, you can gauge certain outcomes and find a sense of what will make you happy, but overwhelmingly, there’s no such thing as the “right” decision. I have found that simply making a decision and acting on it, is the right one. By putting yourself in the driver’s seat, you take control of where you’re going. If you’re too scared, someone or something else will do it for you until you’re left in the rearview mirror of your own life. So even if the decision is a scary one or a seemingly life-changing one, do something. Make your calculations, sit down with yourself and then do something. Even if it turns out horribly, at the very least, it’s better than doing nothing.


Everyone wants to be great. But I think what people, myself included, fail to realize is that greatness is realized only after the moment has passed. Everything feels like the end of the world in the moment, but once it passes, you find appreciation and often, longing for the past. So although this next chapter feels scary and right now I feel like I’m doing everything wrong, soon enough I’ll be looking back on this time with my eyes rolled and head shaking, wishing I could tell myself it’s going to be OK. Or not. Anything can happen of course, but we’re manifesting positivity here, K? The more I try to run from facing life after college, I’m only going to hit more walls and delay the inevitability of life. Instead of hiding behind the comfort and structure of college, I think it’s high time I start embracing the world as my oyster (I’m a sucker for clichés, so sue me).


I’ve always felt intimidated when people say, “You can do anything you put your mind to” because it implies knowing what you want to put your mind to. And right now, I don’t know what I want to do, which makes sense because I haven’t done anything besides pass classes for four years. But for some reason, I feel this pressure to know myself and what I like and don’t like. That’s crazy! I’ve barely met myself, let alone had enough time to be sure of what interests me. I’m still discovering who I am as a person and how I want to carry myself in the world. I’m still trying new hobbies, throwing away old ones, making new friends and outgrowing others. I’m finding my own taste in fashion, growing into a changing body and healing wounded parts of myself I never knew existed. 


They say college is the best four years of your life, but I’m not so sure about that. Maybe it was a good time to learn more about yourself, but maybe it’s just the beginning of a long, long journey on the road to self-discovery. Maybe it was just a taste — a trial run — of what it means to be somebody. But maybe now, the time afterward, is when the real fun begins. Like they say, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I’d rather mess up, fall down and eat sh*t than never have tried at all. So here it goes, closing the warm and cozy dorm room door and stepping into the cold, apparently unforgiving “real world” of adulthood. 


How bad could it be? 

About Mallory Pace

Friends and family knew Mallory Pace would become a writer when she wrote and illustrated a hand-made children’s book in the third grade for her class to read. It didn’t indicate a prodigy-in-the-making, but all the elements of a good storyline were there, waiting to be improved. Now, Mallory is about to graduate from the University of North Florida with a multimedia journalism degree and minors in political science and marketing, with which she hopes to continue storytelling and exploring avenues of multimedia journalism. In Mallory's free time, you’ll either find her taking her cat, Peter, on a walk via stroller, or galavanting around the beaches.