This piece was written by Maddie Astle, an avid blogger who tackles the highs and lows of adulthood. Her work is clearly helping so many people, as demonstrated by the rapid growth of her Instagram page (which you can find: @mindthegapgraduates). Many of us will struggle with imposter syndrome in our twenties and experience limbo in other forms. At times like this, take a few deep breaths and say the phrase ‘back yourself’. Take solace in the fact that we will all experience these feelings. A really useful piece from Maddie that will calm all those read. LW

Nothing filled me with more dread as a student than being asked “so what’s next?” and I always wondered where these feelings came from. Now that I’m a year into adult life I’ve realised that this overwhelming sense of confusion and fear was based on the idea that adults had their life figured out, but I didn’t and still don’t.

It is incredibly easy to find yourself experiencing those feelings of being in limbo after graduation. The comforting structure of education is gone and we’re no longer sure what our next step is. If you’re reading this and thinking yes that sounds like me, then you are not alone. According to a study, 49% of graduates experienced a decline in their mental wellbeing in the year after their graduation.

Throughout school, we’re always being built up to the next thing. Whether it’s achieving good grades at GCSE and then securing the right marks at A-level for our plans of university or apprenticeships, we’re often sold this alluring dream that once we’ve got our degree, we’ll fly through the ranks of the working world so fast and successfully. That seems a little bit farfetched to me now, personally anyway.

Escaping the comparison trap in your twenties

An important element of feeling secure in your decisions and progress as a graduate is not comparing yourself and your journey to others. In your early twenties, when your peers are no longer working toward the same goal as you, be that A-levels or a degree, it can be easy to fall victim to the comparison trap. Using someone else’s successes or progress to diminish your own is something that a lot of students and graduates can fall foul to, but should try their best to avoid.

One way to escape those feelings of comparison and not feeling good enough are to really focus on what you want. There’s no point feeling envious about your friend having a high paying job within finance if you’ve never considered working in that industry or wouldn’t want to, or if someone’s starting salary is higher than yours. We all start somewhere and we all have our own road to follow.

Not stressing about the absence of a plan

Many of us, myself anyway, find it difficult to adjust to life after university due to the absence of structure and a guided plan. We are no longer always working toward the next assignment, or trying to finish the academic year, and we are told to forge our own plan.

So maybe the absence of a structure should trigger the response of “perhaps I don’t need a plan”. Maybe we should find comfort in the fact that nothing is set and we can do whatever (coronavirus dependent) we want. Having a plan in place can often lead to disappointment when things don’t go the way we want to. Speaking from personal experience, things haven’t gone the way I thought they would or how I would have wanted since I left university, so I’m glad I didn’t have a plan that hasn’t worked out, rather I’m just finding my way; slowly but surely.

There is no need, and no pressure, to have a clear plan in your twenties. You can take things at your own pace, make your own choices when things are no longer serving you, and you can change your career path when it no longer makes you happy or excited.

So don’t panic if you don’t have a plan or even an inkling as to what you want to do for the rest of your life, no one truly does. Try to take a few steps toward finding out what you want to do for the next 6 months or year, whether you try new hobbies or read industry-based books and set your sights on finding a career or passion that suits your needs at the time.

It’s okay if things change, we all adjust our goals and desires so don’t feel worried if you no longer want a job in the industry you’ve trained in, or if you decide that old friendships aren’t for you anymore. Feel confident in yourself and your ability to make things work through your twenties and beyond.

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If you’ve read this and thought how much it resonates with you, then you aren’t alone, at all. Facing the world of adulthood is not an easy feat and I can assure you, you’re doing better than you think. For further advice on careers and wellbeing in your twenties, you can find my blog here.