Whenever a chapter of your life is coming to an end the people in your life seem to become obsessed with what you’re planning to do next. What are you doing? When are you doing it? Where are you going? What’s your five year plan?? When are you getting a boyfriend and getting married and having kids??? Where are you going to retire???? When I graduated last year this was all I heard. Okay, to be fair, no one actually asked me where I was going to retire but my whole summer was spent awkwardly side-stepping questions about my future that I wasn’t ready to answer yet. Friends, family, co-workers, professors, literally everyone I knew needed to know right-this-very-second what I was going to do next. I mean seriously people, hold the phone. I just graduated ten seconds ago can we take some time to let that sink in before planning my retirement party?

Honestly, I hated talking to people after I graduated. It was exhausting. I spent so much time and energy making vague statements about possible opportunities that I was basically making up just to get them to shut up and laughing off my unemployment/not-in-my-field employment to people I shouldn’t have had to justify my life to. Because I shouldn’t have had to justify my life to anyone. Everyone’s post-grad journey is different and there’s no one right way to do it but everyone around me was making me feel like I was doing it wrong.

Everyone was so concerned with what I was doing, or not doing, but no one, not one single person, asked me how I felt. No one cared that an incredibly important and formative part of my life was suddenly over. No one cared that I was riddled with anxiety about the future and that their barrage of questions was leaving me in tears on a daily basis. No one gave a damn that I had landed a sweet gig as a baker (pun completely intended) at an awesome, local, female-driven company because it wasn’t a “theatre job.” I couldn’t even be excited about the things I was doing because I spent so much time worrying about the things I wasn’t doing. And while it wouldn’t have changed my employment status or my theatrical prospects, if even one person had asked me how I felt, I might have felt a little less alone and a little less pressured to be everything everyone was expecting me to be. If one person had taken “I don’t know” as the cry for comfort that it was instead of being derisive about my arts degree, maybe I could have saved a few tears and avoided a few late-night anxiety attacks.

In a world that values material success over emotional success, graduating, or moving on from any chapter of life, is a quiet, very lonely hell. People are so caught up in the how, when and what of things that they forget there is a person behind the graduate; a person with feelings and hopes and dreams and doubts and a right to just do what they’re doing now and to not have to answer to the rest of the world for it. It’s hard to remember when you’re in the thick of it but you are allowed to do your own thing and you don’t have to justify your choices to anyone. Go forth and conquer, recent-graduate, even if conquering just means that you got out of bed and got dressed this morning.