Welcome to adulthood, right?! Graduate college…start a new job….move out of your childhood home (for real, this time)…nothing says adulting best than your first time picking out health insurance, budgeting every expense, and balancing the ever-changing dynamics of both love and friendship.
It’s almost shocking to think about the sheer number of major transitions that young adults navigate when they graduate from college and enter into the workforce – and, as hard as it is, we all live to tell! While the transition of starting college is often talked about, there is far less attention given to the major transition of graduating from college. For the first time in the young adult’s life, they feel the gravity of being an adult, being lonely, and life is totally up to them. Up until this point, from preschool to elementary school to high school to college, you are surrounded by others with similar purpose. There is an automatic sense of belonging and that feels safe.
However, this built-in belonging often comes to an abrupt halt when you enter the workforce for the first time. I know, I am living proof – I experienced a sense of major letdown after I graduated college and took my first job. I moved to a new city, where I was far away from my immediate family for the first time in my life, and worked two part-time jobs while trying to figure out what I actually wanted to do as a career. I struggled with feeling the ease of belonging; I was in a strange place, surrounded by people from various stages of life, and that is when I really felt on my own. Keep reading if you can relate.
I often questioned if I had made the right choice in moving to a new city. Initially, it had felt like such a big, exciting step, but as the excitement of anticipation waned, I was faced with the realities of feeling disconnected from those around me. As I met new people within my community, I found it much harder to align my social schedule. Since my coworkers were all older than me, I turned elsewhere for friendships. In my case, I found community within my church as I connected with other young people. But even finding time to build these new friendships felt like an uphill battle.
All that being said, many would agree that there are more challenges that stand in the way for young professionals today. Unlike when I was adjusting to post-college life, we are now living in the midst of a pandemic which presents unique challenges to safely meeting people. It’s much harder to develop friendships when so many activities have become virtual rather than in-person. This can affect your job, too. Perhaps you were expecting to experience working in your office in-person, and now your company is asking everyone to work from home. You’ve taken a job and moved to a new city, only to be cooped up in your one-bedroom apartment alone staring at your computer day after day.
You’re not the only one who feels this way. It’s disappointing to sit with the truth that your current reality did not live up to your expectations. It can feel lonely if you have no one in close proximity who knows you on a deep level. When we feel this, it can be an instinctual reaction to retreat into ourselves, hoping to protect our hearts from deeper hurt. Sometimes we choose to stay in isolation, rather than to go through the work of developing intimate relationships. To some extent, this feeling of loneliness is a normal developmental stage.
Psychologist Erik Erickson has a model for stages of psychosocial development. He believes that in each stage, there is a conflict that one must resolve before entering into the next stage of development. Either one will develop that quality, or they will fail to develop it. For the stage of young adulthood (which he defines as ages 19-40), Erickson describes the major conflict as intimacy vs. isolation. The task to be resolved in this stage is to step into close, committed relationships with other people.
A big question that we may ask ourselves at this stage is, “Will I be loved or will I be alone?”
It’s not simple to step into intimacy. It can feel vulnerable to share parts of yourself with others. You may fear rejection if you put yourself out there. I’ve experienced these fears myself at times, and in my own therapy, I’ve had to work on allowing myself to be known in relationships.
If you’re struggling with loneliness, disappointment, or a fear of opening up, here are three things that can help:
- Join a young professionals group
Did you know that many cities have young professionals groups? This can be a great way to connect with other people who are going through the same experiences as you. Try searching for Facebook groups, support groups for young professionals, Meetup groups, or look in your local faith community for a young professionals group. If you are in the Charlotte area, check out the CYPG.
- Find a hobby you like and do it with others
As you seek to form intimate relationships, it’s important to first know yourself well, and to know what you like. If you love staying active, try joining a running club or attending a workout class every week at your gym. If you love to be creative, look for a painting class or a writing group to join. By engaging in activities you enjoy within the context of a group setting, it’ll be easier to build friendships with others who have the same interests as you.
- Try therapy
The isolation of not having community can make it easy for one to experience depression or anxiety. The responsibility that comes with a full-time job and becoming financially independent could cause severe stress – and experience panic attacks. Being able to process these changes within the context of a therapeutic relationship can aid in bringing healing, feeling supported, and finding direction in life.
For young professionals considering seeking therapy, here are some helpful questions to ask yourself and to explore in therapy:
- What gives me a sense of belongingness?
- When was the last time I felt most like myself?
- Do I have a strong friendship group? Do I feel connected to my community?
- How am I coping with change? How do I handle stress? When do I feel the most lonely? Am I okay?
- Does my job contribute to my sense of purpose and meaning?
- What challenges stand in the way of me building new friendships? What are my barriers for getting connected to others right now?
Taking the time to work on yourself through therapy helps you to know yourself better and be able to name your needs. It helps you to safely explore the core beliefs about yourself that are lying beneath the surface. We can help you better understand your needs and obstacles in new ways that lead to actual change. Reach out to us to schedule a session.