Navigating the Excitement and Dread of Graduation

By: Kristen Lipari, Ph.D. | May 13, 2022

After years of hard work, you’ve finally reached the finish line and are graduating! This is a time of celebration and excitement. You enjoy the festivities, the joy and happiness, and then you…

  • Start feeling anxious and scared about what the future holds
  • Notice feelings of sadness about saying goodbye
  • Begin to feel doubt, second guess yourself and wonder if you’ve set out on the right path

These feelings might catch you by surprise after the letdown of accomplishing such a big goal. It’s helpful to know that these experiences are common among graduates. Your mixed emotions might be disorienting and confusing. Be gentle with yourself and allow space for difficult emotions to arise. After all, after graduation you’re whole world changes: new friends, a different living environment, and a new routine.

Adjusting to Change

Times of transition and change call for a concept referred to as psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility comes from a form of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT is an effective, empirically validated therapeutic approach aimed to help people build resilience and improve their ability to cope with challenging life circumstances. A key principle of ACT is that human suffering is part of our universal experience. The aim of ACT is to teach us how to be psychologically flexible: to be in “the present moment fully as a conscious human being, and based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values” (Hayes, 2013).

What wisdom can ACT offer soon-to-be college graduates? The ACT principles listed below will help you navigate through this time of transition and pave a clear path forward:

1. Acceptance

As humans it’s natural for us to want to avoid painful experiences. The sadness and loss that may come up with graduation is no exception. ACT asserts that if we accept our negative experiences rather than struggle with them or avoid them, we can let them go so that we’re not controlled by our pain.

When it comes to potential sadness about graduation, offer yourself kindness and self-compassion for any apprehension you have about the change ahead – after all it’s understandable that a big change may bring with it some melancholy. This sadness may be a sign that you enjoyed aspects of your college experience and by increasing values-based action, you may enjoy parts of your life that are ahead. Speaking of values…

2. Values

Identify what’s most important to you as you plan what lies ahead. We experience less emotional turmoil when our actions and values are aligned. Values-based actions can be essential to finding a satisfying job. At the very least, having a good understanding of your values will help shed light on why you may feel dissatisfied if your first job doesn’t pan out as you imagined.

3. Committed Action

Explore opportunities that draw upon your interests and skills and align with your values. Working at your first job after college graduation may be a good time to test whether your assumptions about a particular career path was correct and to pivot if the role falls short of satisfying your goals.

You may also consider ways to integrate your values outside of work. Whether you prioritize spending time with friends, explore your creative side through art or dance, or take advantage of the many sunny days that San Diego has to offer, you can maintain the activities you enjoyed in college long after you graduate.

The road ahead may have inevitable bumps, but the present moment may hold an opportunity to create an exciting and satisfying future.

Working with a San Diego Psychologist specializing in college counseling, early career exploration, and identity development can help clear out the fog.

You and your therapist will work together to find ways to help you feel clearer and more confident about your future after graduation. Your therapist can help you uncover your values, interests, and skills and help you set values-driven behavioral goals to ensure you stay on the path that will bring you the most satisfaction.

If you are struggling with anxiety or sadness about your post-college future, the team at Therapy Changes has extensive experience working with college students and young adults. Contact us to learn more about our services and how we can help.




Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash

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