Post-Grad Reflections: An Identity beyond Labels & Routines
There’s a note on my phone last edited at 12:25 a.m. on January 16, 2020. It begins like this:
Who will I be now that I can’t win scholarships, and when my grades don’t tell me I’m special?
How do I measure my progress without the grading scale that has faithfully shown me where I am and where I need to go?
I will need to be comfortable with myself apart from my academics bolstering me in the face of others’ more impressive careers and salaries.
Easier said than done . . .
Almost exactly a month earlier, I’d donned my graduation cap and gown, filed into an auditorium, and became the first in my immediate family to receive my bachelor’s degree.
My friends and family frequently asked, “Are you excited?!” Sure, I was proud of what I’d accomplished and pleased that my family was there to celebrate. But excited? Honestly, not really.
I didn’t have any big career aspirations or a dream job lined up. All my close friends were still in college. As I accepted my diploma, a chunk of my identity flaked off: “student.” I’d worked hard and anticipated the day when I wouldn’t have this label anymore. But as I entered the new year as a graduate, I felt untethered. Adrift. Derailed. Hence the late-night introspection.
Some rhythms, like school, become so familiar that we file them under the “got to” category instead of the “get to” category, especially with the pressure of essay deadlines and upcoming presentations. After graduation, I was so relieved that my days of staying up way too late finishing homework were behind me. However, after weeks turned to months, I began missing school’s routines and the closeness of friends.
Perhaps there’s a relationship in your life that requires a lot of emotional energy or a stressful project at work. The responsibilities that come with labels like “student,” “friend,” or “employee” can be overwhelming. Life would be so much easier without those stressors, right? But in the absence of those labels, we miss out on many joys too.
As I struggled through these feelings, I felt like I couldn’t talk about it until I had some new label. Don’t make the same mistake I did. When you’re feeling the loss of part of your identity, reach out to people who care about you. Being honest with your loved ones, journaling, and spending time in prayer can help you so much in processing your experiences.
Life is messy, and it’s rare that we get an opportunity to so clearly close one chapter of our lives and begin another. Graduation can feel like a clean slate, but it also comes with a new set of expectations: finding a job.
Aside from necessity, we’re assured that work and productivity are biblical values. God tasked the first human with jobs tending the Garden of Eden and naming living creatures (Gen 2:15, 19). And we don’t have to look any further than Proverbs to see the harm that accompanies idleness.
After college, I attached so much of my worth in attaining that new “employee” label in my industry that it felt like the bottom dropped out when I didn’t succeed right away. I wish I would have realized sooner that you’re more than the job you have or don’t have, that work is just a part of God’s design for us—not the definition of who we are as people.
Your first job out of college doesn’t have to be your forever job. It can be something that pays off your student loans and helps you get your bearings. And just because you don’t see a clear future where you currently are, doesn’t mean that God isn’t at work.
Our daily rhythms have been unimaginably shaken and replaced by a COVID-19 reality. Things we didn’t realize we should be grateful for have been stripped away, like frequently seeing friends in person, leisurely browsing at a store, or going to the fitness center.
Mourning the loss of a routine or rhythm you enjoy is completely normal in this abnormal season. But the loss of a routine is not the same as losing our entire identity.
As we realize how fragile our circumstances are, it’s a gut check to ask ourselves, “Am I placing too much of my worth in what I’m doing?” The things you do can be completely worthwhile: work, time spent with family, etc. But they aren’t the definition of your worth as a human being made in the image of God.
There may be other things that you’re doing that objectively wear on your identity, like social media. Posting and being affirmed by your followers feels wonderful, but the never-ending drive to refresh and make sure you know the latest updates isn’t healthy. Now may be a good time to ask yourself: “Is too much of my mental energy being spent dwelling on things that happened online?”
Like no other, this season has revealed where we aren’t placing our security in Christ and offers us an invitation to lean more on God. This can look like pausing at the end of the day for examen, being aware of moments when we feel near to God and noting the moments when we don’t. This is a chance to reaffirm to ourselves that the author and perfecter of our faith will draw near to us when we draw near to him (Jas 4:8).
My note from earlier ended like this:
I will need to remember that sometimes people are kinder than I imagine them to be. I expect them to be less than perfect, so I hope they will expect the same of me.
Ultimately the measurement of me—my career, my character—is not based on other’s assessments but is rooted at the foot of the cross where all that is seen of me is covered in white snow.
Looking forward, I know I’m going to have moments where I doubt and question my identity. But I know my struggle’s not in vain. No matter how much things shift around, we can hold onto the truth that God is solid. His promises and character haven’t changed. Our identity in him hasn’t changed. His love for us hasn’t changed—even if our labels and routines have.