On (Not) Being a Failure: My Post-College Journey

When I graduated college in 2009, I had a plan. I would move back home and live with my mom until I found an entry-level job as a writer or editor. Then I would get an apartment, maybe move in with my college boyfriend, and begin my “adult” life. I anticipated that all of this would take about six months, max.

Things didn’t exactly work out that way. Turns out, there weren’t really any entry-level jobs in my field because of the recession. There weren’t any jobs, period. I spent over a year applying to dozens of positions, anything I was even remotely qualified for. The result of my search was some sporadic editing gigs, a very-part-time job teaching computer lessons to old people, and an ill-fated administrative assistant position for a company that almost immediately asked me to compose college admission essays for non-English-speaking students. I left that one more deflated than ever.

I didn’t know back then that I wasn’t alone in my aspiring adult struggles. Despite the fact that some of my friends were able to find jobs and be independent, many of these fell through, or were exaggerated. Personally, I tried to avoid telling anyone that I lived at home and only worked part-part time doing freelance editing gigs. I was embarrassed. I still am embarrassed. Because, going on five years later, that part of the equation hasn’t changed.

Yep, folks. I still live at home.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve been stuck in the same place all these years. But that’s not really true. Because I couldn’t find a full-time job, I decided to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time writing, taking classes, and working on this site. My college relationship ended shortly after I graduated, but after a few years of dating disasters and discouragements, I found an awesome boyfriend who is always there for me and is my number one fan.

\It’s because of said boyfriend that I felt inspired to write this post. I’ve been so discouraged lately, feeling like nothing has changed, that I’ll never be truly successful or independent. As I wrap up my graduate degree, edit my two ongoing manuscripts for publication, and begin to contemplate re-entering the job market, all those fears about being behind, being unsuccessful, and being a failure have returned, full force.

I want to be an “adult” so badly. I know my boyfriend is right when he tells me that no one is where they thought they’d be. There are others out there going through what I’m going through, especially those pursuing creative endeavors. I really just want to be a writer who makes enough as a freelance editor and writing teacher to support that dream. It’s still not clear whether that will be possible or enough. Right now, it isn’t.

I don’t necessarily have anything motivational to end on. I just wanted to be honest about my new adult journey because I don’t want to hide anymore. As twenty-somethings, we’ve been led to believe that adulthood works a certain way, and that it has a timeframe that must be followed. If you’re not able to follow that timeframe, you’re a failure.

Even though I feel like a failure at times, I’m really just trying to find my way in a world that’s changing and uncertain. I’m lucky to have a mother who supports me and my dream of being a writer. I’m also very lucky that I have a few good friends and a wonderful boyfriend who helps me feel accomplished and talented whenever I feel down and hopeless. There are a few parts of the equation I’ve gotten right, but none showed up the way I expected them to. I can only hope that’s true for everything else, that the pieces will fall into place when they’re ready to, and when I’m ready for them to.

Are you still trying to figure out this whole adulthood thing? Or are you someone who went through this already and came out on the other side? 

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16 replies to “On (Not) Being a Failure: My Post-College Journey”

  1. Amber West says:

    I’m 35, so I guess I should be one of those who has come out the other side. I still don’t know that I FEEL like an adult, but here is what I’ve learned at this point.

    I can’t base my success as an adult (or a human being) on a job or career. For me, there are too many external factors that can lead to a major letdown in that department.

    I’ve done well enough on the job front since my 20s – even at times in my 20s – but those jobs could (and in some cases did) disappear as quickly as they came.

    When it came to things I loved – things like writing – I never tried to make those a means of earning income. They’ve done that a time or two, but I didn’t want to tarnish my love for something because I wasn’t making enough off of it. I’m a big fan of not assigning a numerical value to the creative bits of my life to determine if I succeeded or failed. If I’ve created something and that something made me happy, than it was a success. If I shared it with others and even one person enjoyed it, even better!

    In the end, I’ve found that I have to base my success as an adult person on what kind of person I am and the relationships I’ve built.

    I’ve been married 12 years, and I’m about to have my second kid – neither of those things by themselves make me feel like an adult, but the lessons I’ve learned from those experiences do. Learning to listen and understand others, learning not to judge, learning to put others needs ahead of my own…for me, those are the things that have started to make me feel like I’m getting this whole succeeding at adulthood thing down. (You can learn those things from a variety of experiences – not saying marriage and/or kids are the only way…)

    Hang in there. You are definitely not a failure. You’re just figuring out life…which takes a lot more time than TV/Media/High School/College prepared us for. 🙂

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thank you so much for the comment and for sharing your experiences, Amber.

      I’m someone who does dream of making at least a little money from my writing, but I agree that making it a full-time thing or being dependent on it could suck the fun and creative freedom out of it very quickly. I love what you said measuring your adulthood success by the kind of person you are and the relationships you have. When I look at it that way, I’m a lot further ahead 🙂

  2. Alana, I’ll echo Amber, hang in there. She has delineated a lot of what made me feel like an adult–as much as I do (and I have children in their twenties). Adulthood is extremely subjective, and in my honest opinion, overrated.
    I know intimately the feeling of failure you describe. I wanted to be a professor of medieval studies, but the jobs were not there once I had the degrees (and still aren’t). I learned more from my enforced “leisure” time than I would have had I gotten the meteoric career I thought I wanted at 25.

    Amber is spot on–the person you want to be and the relationships you have are more indicative of success than any other measure. Try not to listen to that inner critic that compares you to everyone else.

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks so much for the comment, Elizabeth. It’s reassuring to hear. I know I probably put too much emphasis on career and money equaling success. It’s a byproduct of our society, I suppose. I’m glad to hear that, when it comes down to it, you both feel like relationships are what matter.

  3. One of my favorite sayings is: Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

    Things often take twists and turns we don’t expect, but I’ve found that in the long run, we get to where we need to be. If you had gotten that great job right out of college, you wouldn’t have your MFA now. That degree will be yours forever! If you’d moved in with your college boyfriend in order to feel more like an adult, you might not be with that cutie pie in the picture now!

    I agree with Elizabeth. Adulthood is kind of overrated. And for most of us there is no magic moment when we suddenly feel like an adult. Heck, my 66-year-old brother posted on FB today — “I’m with Peter Pan…Never grow up!” 😀

    1. Alana says:Author

      Very true, Kassandra. Thank you so much for your comment! I always imagined feeling some magical moment, like you said, when I officially became an adult. It sounds like that doesn’t really exist, which shouldn’t be a surprise, but in some ways it is.

  4. Why do we all pick ourselves apart Alana? Why do we have these expectations that may only serve to deflate us? I don’t think it matters what age we are. There are younger people that act more like an adult than older ones and visa versa. And with the monetary climate change that we all live in, people of all ages are being forced into situations that weren’t what they’d planned. They’re building multi-generational houses in our neighborhood because families cannot make it without the support of other family members. I have a son who is in his early thirties and cannot make it on his own. And he feels the same way you do. Yes, you’re feelings are real and validated. But we are living in difficult times. They are much different than what our parents were raised in. So there is no shame in living with family regardless of your occupation or age. That’s what family is for. And I think we’re going to see a lot more of this as this economic downturn continues. So be grateful and hang in there and keep thinking those positive thoughts! ((Hugs!)) 🙂

    1. Alana says:Author

      I just wish that there wasn’t so much shame and stigma around living with family, especially given how hard it is for everyone, and how many people are going through what I am. In other countries, children often live at home until they get married, sometimes longer. I like the idea of multi-generational households and communities. I’m not sure why I’m not an adult until I live in a crappy apartment alone.

      As always, your insightful thoughts and comments are much appreciated, Karen! *hugs* 🙂

  5. Hang in there, Alana. Life took an awful lot of twists and turns for me, but looking back, I can see how one thing led to another. I wouldn’t be where I am and who I am today without those twists! I’ve been writing for years, sometimes to pay the bills and sometimes not, but just received my Bachelor’s two weeks ago – at 54, a lifelong goal completed. And I still say, “When I grow up, I want to …”

    Financial success can be had by anyone willing to cheat/lie/steal, but it doesn’t mean much and it can disappear overnight. True success is who you are inside, the things you contribute to the world, and the relationships you have. The experiences along the way (and what you learn from them) are what make you a “grown-up,” and the career success will come if you just keep plugging away. Good luck to you!

    1. Alana says:Author

      So true, Jennifer. Thanks so much for the comment. I love hearing all of these stories about how people have come into adulthood on their own terms, on their own timelines. It’s very reassuring. Congrats on the bachelor’s!

  6. Pj says:

    You are amazing and wonderful. I believe in you and you inspire me every day. I know we can do anything together. I love you Alana!

    1. Alana says:Author

      I love you so much, Pj! You are my inspiration and motivation and everything!

  7. Kate says:

    I’m tempted to just say “same”.

    I had some lofty goals going into (and heading out of) college. It would have been cool to do something I love, meet somebody I love (and loves me back, I suppose,) be good at something, you know, the usual things. But now those goals have been reduced to basically the following

    1.) Be able to afford even the most run-down of apartments. I feel like I dutifully put in my years of college houses and roommates who don’t clean and kitchens (and sometimes bathrooms…) that have strange sticky substances on at least 25% of all surfaces. Unfortunately, at 27 years old, that’s still where I am. If my parents didn’t live in a small town, I suppose that would be an option too.

    2.) Find a job that doesn’t make me absolutely hate life. I think I’d be relatively pleased with moderate discontent at this point.

    It’s a good idea to try to take a look at what progress has been made. I guess I’m too negative to do that for myself.
    I have, however, found myself trying to point out (to myself, of course) negative aspects of the lives that my more successful friends have forged for themselves.
    Wow, what a terribly pessimistic and disgusting coping mechanism that is!

    I think your boyfriend is right and that writing a blog entry is a much more productive method!

    1. Alana says:Author

      Don’t worry, Kate, I do that too. I don’t usually write a blog entry when I’m feeling insecure. I often try to find faults with people who seem successful as well. I agree, it’s not a great coping mechanism, especially because it never makes me feel better. It makes me think that being completely happy or successful is even more unattainable when I do that.

      Thanks so much for the comment and for stopping by the blog!

  8. You always inspire me and thanks for the shout out to “your Mom”…. the twenties are an amazing decade and as I approach the 60s I would like to share that it keeps getting better!

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks, Mom!

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