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Gif by Dana Davenport

As a natural type A child, and now adult, I’ve lived by an internal checklist of life goals. Beautiful report card in elementary school? Tacked up on the refrigerator. I craved, and ultimately obtained, glowing appraisals from my teachers throughout middle and high school, with a plan to study online journalism.

In May 2019, I graduated college with a Bachelor’s in journalism and a double-minor in creative writing and political science.

During those last 4 years, I worked blindly to receive any internship I could get. I became the president of my favorite club on campus, accepted invitations from honor societies, and topped the dean’s list for 3 years straight. In my mind, the massive anxiety attacks that came alongside my flimsy paper degree were no surprise.

But the lack of job offers was.

Growing up, I’d become very much accustomed to being rewarded for doing the right thing as a student, daughter, and so on. I assumed that because I worked hard to make my dreams a reality as a high schooler going into college, the same type of compensation would be gifted to me after graduation.

I worked my ass off for 4 years and thought those achievements would have employers fighting over me, but all I had to show for it was a diploma that no one even wanted to see.

For the first time ever, I was completely and utterly lost.

It didn’t help that I had the reputation in my family as “the good one.” While my parents laid off vocalizing any pressure to find a job after graduation, I openly let myself fall victim to my own anxieties. And with all that under my belt, I still managed to collect a plethora of rejection emails from my favorite media organizations, inevitably creating a looming rain cloud atop my once passionate, wide-eyed dreams.

It’s since been 4 months since I walked across the stage and waved a solemn goodbye to my college career, and, guess what? I still don’t have a job.

Admittedly, at first, I let the fears and worries of being utterly free from college get to me. When my post-grad agenda went un-checked, I felt as though I was living in my worst reality. Who was I if I didn’t have that incredible dream job, like I had been promising myself my entire life?

As the weeks progressed, I heard a lot of clichés from family members and friends attempting to make me feel better about my status as an unemployed graduate. It felt silly to feed into their axioms, but I had had my entire lifetime planned out for me — and now I didn’t.

Feeding into the lack of structure was getting me nowhere in my quest to figure out what kind of person I wanted to be. In fact, it pushed me further away from the vision for myself. I won’t become the person I want to be if I don’t suffer through the aches of being a 20-something, figuring out her footing in the world.

This needed to be a period of growth rather than panic.

And so I’ve decided to shift my perspective on post-grad life. I admit, this stage in my life is filled with awkward, tense growing pains — and while the cause isn’t necessarily clear in this present moment, I know that the development is essential.

For some time I doubted my skills and talents — not because a hiring manager told me I was an awful writer, or my parents said I should forget about getting a job I’m passionate about, but because I received rejections and took them each to heart. Now I see interviews as practice. No time spent with a potential employer is ever wasted, even if I don’t get the job.

Post-graduate life is by no means a straight path filled with dream job offers, inexpensive apartments, and an overflowing savings account. I still have to remind myself that this is very much a transitional stage. A newly self-aware phase that doesn’t have to be purely negative.

While, clearly, things didn’t quite move the way I planned, I’m still starting a different, independent chapter of my life. It’s much different from when I graduated college. I might not have a job, and may still live out of my parent’s house, but I’m also welcoming growth, practice, and opportunities to widen my talents and skills.

I’ve come to terms with knowing that, even as a totally type A individual with a very organized checklist, some things just won’t happen until you’re 100 percent ready. I’m unpacking rejections and moving forward from the efforts I put in as a college student. Sometimes, you have to warrant the job rejections, question where you’re going in life, and reaffirm your passions.

More often than not, the prospect of entering the “real world” will mean having to be okay with things not going according to plan — and that’s the truth.

Melissa Lee is a writer and editor from New York. She is currently doing her best. Come say hi on Twitter and Instagram and talk to her about young adult existentialism.