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The Difficulties of the Pandemic Freshman Year of Life

Ianni Le

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Here’s a secret that no one seems to share: When you’re 23, you may find yourself more lost than you’ve ever been.

Someone told me it's like being a teenager again, but with the added responsibilities of being a “real” adult. Except you don’t feel like a real adult.

Imposter syndrome has never hit me harder than it did after I graduated college.

Throw in a global pandemic and, quite frankly, I feel as if I and my fellow recent college grads never stood a chance. 2020 seemed to both drag on and fly by. A year after completing my degree in December 2019, I’ve figured out absolutely nothing about my life trajectory.

Enter, My Quarter Life Crisis of Self-Doubt

I sat down the other day to start looking into graduate programs around the world, just to get an idea of what my options might be. Half an hour into my search, I ran to find my roommate to ask her how she could possibly have found the strength to make the commitment to apply to grad school during this time.

Looking up from writing yet another application essay, she told me point blank she had absolutely no clue what was going on, no idea if this was the right move, and that crippling anxiety clouds her brain these days more often than not.

And yet, everyone our age seems to be moving forward in their lives, either already in graduate school, starting their careers — even getting married! Though I know for sure I'm not ready to get married, the wedding announcements and photos flooding my social media feeds still make me feel as if I’m falling behind.

Everything lately has made me feel as if I’m falling behind. Figuring out your life at 23 years old is easier said than done. Maybe the whole undergraduate-to-graduate-school path was more straightforward pre-pandemic, or maybe everyone goes through this same period of self-doubt but no one talks about it.

Either way, I feel as if I've been left in the dark.

In the brief hour I spent considering grad school, my mind raced through a hundred different worst-case scenarios (thank you, anxiety!).

Say the best programs for what I want to study are all overseas; the issue there is that I don’t think I have what it takes to move to a foreign country alone again. Say there are a few decent programs back home in Shanghai, but China’s borders have been closed to foreigners for a year with no signs of opening back up again. Then there’s the problem of student visas (which I've been lucky enough to have never dealt with before), and the fact that I rescued a pandemic puppy this year so he’ll need...a dog visa?

Never mind that, let’s backtrack and say I’d rather stay in the U.S. for graduate school. Am I giving up a golden opportunity to study in a foreign country? Am I not challenging myself enough? Is there any point in worrying about any of this when I’m not even sure I’d be accepted into any of these programs? I'm employed currently but don't necessarily feel as if I'm on a career path, so I definitely need to go to graduate school...right?

What I’m trying to say is that I’m a mess of self-doubt and anxiety. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing right now and I don’t know where to find the answers. I have yet to begin taking this next step in my life, but already feel overwhelmed. It does little to inspire the confidence I need to make progress.

In short, I think I’m having a quarter life crisis.

Finding Meaning In Being Lost

I do think there’s a bright side to all this, because I’ve become more motivated than ever to move forward in this new year.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my freshman year of life:

  • Don’t be afraid of the fact that you’re lost right now. Pandemic or not, you are almost supposed to be lost at this point in your life.
  • It takes time to figure out your entire life trajectory and now that I’ve said it, that may seem obvious, but it definitely isn’t obvious when you’re going through it.
  • In the deep pit of my own self-doubt, my freshman year of life felt like an ending, a confirmation that I was nowhere near where I thought I was supposed to be. I see now why this awkward, confusing time is a beginning rather than an end. This is when you take the time to recalibrate and reevaluate your priorities so you can actively pursue everything you want in life.
  • Don’t stress yourself out too much worrying about everything you feel like you should have accomplished. You won’t get anywhere by comparing your journey with that of other people’s and you rob yourself of so much joy by doing so.

Even people who seem to have it all figured out before going to college are going to find themselves in need of a reassessment. You’ve spent the past few years learning and growing, and it’s important to recognize that your dreams may look different now as a result.

You owe it to yourself to take the time and reflect on what would truly make you happiest, and I promise that the time you spend figuring that out (however long it takes) will never be a waste.

So here's to the future, whatever that may look like for each of us!

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Ianni Le is a freelance writer and content creator. She attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, graduating with a degree in Media Design and English Literature. Ianni grew up in Shanghai, China and enjoys her dogs, books and food equally.
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