Post-grad life: Welcome to the cave


These past few weeks my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with photos of friends wearing caps, gowns and huge smiles. Congratulations, graduated friends! Right now you’re celebrating the end of exams and classes while mourning the end of an era. You may have said tearful goodbyes to some of your friends and fondest campus locations, but there’s one more thing you should bid ado: your sense of time.

You may recall a post I wrote on Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade (if not you should read it!). In her book, Jay compares life after college to life in a cave. She refers to a young French man who spent two months living in a cave during the ’60s, revealing that when the man emerged, he thought he had only been underground for 25 days. Without cues from the sun, he had no way to tell how much time had passed. This is what our lives feel like after 16+ years of academic routine:

“Our twenties can be like living beyond time … There are days and weeks and months and years, but no clear way to know when or why any one thing should happen. It can be a disorienting, cavelike experience.” –Meg Jay

We are raised with a forward drive. We’re constantly striving for that next checkpoint. Moving forward to new subjects, grades, classes, semesters. Our routine is constant, yet changing. Yeah, we’re making choices, but for the most part we’re deciding which clearly marked path we should follow. Choose from these universities, these majors, these classes.

This is time as we know it. We start a class. It’s easy. It progressively gets harder. It ends in a cluster of stress and relief. Then we start a new class. These are the numbers on a student’s watch.

But what happens when there are no more classes? Time becomes this big blur. There are checkpoints we know we’re supposed to get to… a good job, marriage, a family, maybe some traveling. These are all things that supposedly take place in our 20s. But how do we go about accomplishing them? What if they happen out of order? Where is the syllabus??

Come join me in my cave. Embrace your disorientation. Let your eyes adjust.

Not only are caves dark, but they are also incredibly easy to get lost in. There are many different paths you can follow. Some are filled with bats, others are filled with crystals. No one is going to tell you when it’s time to move on to a new job, a new relationship or even a new career. You won’t have a handful of choices laid out in front of you, hinting at what you should do next; the possibilities will be endless. This is your time for trial and error.

People say the college years are for self exploration. If you think you found a clear path for your life during college, that’s great. Now let’s turn off the lights and spin you around. College was just the beginning.


4 thoughts on “Post-grad life: Welcome to the cave

  1. Excellent post. You not only encapsulate the twentysomething (and adult in general) experience, you do so with beautiful words and imagery.

    I’ve often said hat I’m a teacher simply because I need the change in seasons so that I can mark time – if I didn’t go back to “school” every fall, I don’t know what I’d do. The school calendar is the bit of light streaming into my cave and I can only imagine how disorienting it is without that.

    That said, a cave is a wonderful place to find who you really are. No distractions to lead you astray.

    • Thank you! Sometimes I find myself wanting to go to school to get my teaching license, but then I ask myself, Is this really something I want to do as a career, or am I just craving familiarity?

      And you’re right, living without so many time constraints can be a good thing. If you enjoy something, you can spend more time doing it, and if you don’t like something, you can end it as soon as you want to. Not living from semester to semester can be liberating.

  2. I love how you elaborate on the image from Dr. Meg Jay’s cave story. It really does capture the feeling coming out of college. There’s no guide to lead you through the cave. It’s kind of like walking around in the dark with only your hands spread out in front of you for some type of guidance. All we can do is take a leap and learn adapt as we go!

    Great post! đŸ™‚

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