How to Get Through the Post-College Panic

Graduating from University can be daunting if you don’t have grad school or job prospects lined up beforehand. And you’d be surprised how many don’t, especially in these sour economic times when companies are freezing hiring and banks are ever-so-cautious with their loans.

It’s easy to think that the decisions you make during this time are setting you up for the rest of your life, which can make your next steps extremely intimidating. I call this phase of unease and uncertainty the Post-College Panic. If you’re a recent graduate, most likely you or someone you know well has (or maybe still is) experiencing it.

I moved down to California for work 3 years ago now, but I can still recall the feelings I had after university vividly. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Engineering from Queen’s University in Canada, I had the summer to figure out what I was going to do next. School was always an option, but having just finished undergrad, I was eager for the unknown that stepping into a career would bring. And I’m not going to lie; the money was calling my name too.

Those summer months of applying to jobs seemed like an eternity; an eternity of stress, confusion, and deep thought about my plan for life. It was hard not to panic; I didn’t have my career path cut out for me, like a lot of my commerce friends did with the big 4 accounting firms. In fact, my degree of ‘Mathematics and Engineering’ was unique in the sense that I was left with a broad range of skills and not specialized. But that only gave me more options to choose from.

Post-College Panic

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It was the first time in my life where I didn’t have my next step already figured out, and the right track to take wasn’t clear. Fear set in, and the relentless knot in my stomach was a daily reminder I was without direction. What if I made the wrong choice? In an impulsive fit of restlessness and frustration, I dyed my blonde hair to a deep red… myself. Note to all: red hair is the hardest color to go back to blonde from… thanks L’Oreal.

One thing that helped me make progress during this time was that in my final year of undergrad we had to present on any Engineering topic of interest. I wanted mine to be the coolest out of all my peers (if you can’t tell I’m slightly competitive), and what could be more cool than controlling a computer with your brain? So, after some research, I chose the topic of my presentation to be Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI) and found it extremely interesting.

So that’s the direction I decided to take in these three months, anything to do with BCI. And if I wasn’t going to continue on to do a Masters on the subject, a job in the field made me just as excited. I also knew I wanted to move and experience the excitement another place had to offer, like when I had moved to go to university in Ontario instead of my hometown Vancouver.

There were only a select few companies doing work in the area of BCI. The positive side of figuring out my interest in brain-computer interfaces was that when I actually applied to places, I could ooze genuine enthusiasm in my application.

And in the end that sincere passion was what ended up setting me apart. It caused a Silicon Valley BCI start-up to take a leap of faith and hire their first out-of-country employee. That and a cheeky jab at the VP of sales during my interview that showed them I could hold my own in their boys’ club (but I’ll save that story for another time).

Now I tell people in the same position that, although it’s a LOT easier said than done, do your best not to stress. And if you can’t stop stressing, at least morph it into more positive energy and use it as a motivator, and keep on trucking. Life has a unique way of figuring itself out, and your situation is all about the way you perceive it.

It gives me comfort now to view my situation from the point of view that maybe there is no wrong path or choice. If I make a mistake, at least I’m still making progress towards figuring out what type of person I am, what my goals are in life, and what makes me happy. The path I take now does not have to cement my entire future, the world is dynamic and so am I. 

I’ve always heard that your 20s is when you’re supposed to be figuring out who you are, but I guess I never fully understood how true that was until now.

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About Dyana

Dyana is an Engineer and Product Manager working for a Brain-Computer Interface company in Silicon Valley. Originally from Canada, she moved out of her igloo to California three years ago to get away from all the lumberjacks and beavers. Dyana is a vegetarian and animal rights advocate. A big health nut, Dyana loves to kickbox, run, and do yoga. She is also a P90X grad ;) She is a self-proclaimed sci-fi nerd who is always ready to immerse herself in a great story and eager to educate people on what a Cylon is.