3 Ways to Stay Confident After Graduation

When you graduate, taking your first steps out of College or University into the big, bad world is, how to put it…

…a little bit fucked up.

The structure and support of your education and peers is no longer there to lean on. You might have just moved back home, bringing a whole new set of pressures and expectations. Then there’s the challenge of finding a damn job, maybe even something related to what you studied. It feels very much like you have to start being responsible, with few of the tools and little of the means to do so.

In the post-graduation transition, it’s easy to feel lost and confused, not knowing which way you should go while feeling like you have to get it right or you’ll fuck it all up.

Your confidence can disappear like a fart in a fan factory.

So here’s how to remain confident and trust yourself, even in the middle of all the uncertainty and change that this brave new world brings.

Stop feeling like you should have all the answers

After all that time in education and having now graduated, it feels like now’s the time when you can start reaping the rewards, and the pressure to make all the right decisions and start nailing it is palpable.

But as you try to equip yourself with all the right answers, so come more questions.

Which company culture will be the better fit for you? Which direction offers the best opportunities for growth? How can you leave your mark most effectively and most rapidly? Should you relocate or maybe take a year out? Which way is the right way?

This is about your relationship with uncertainty, and the felt need you have to counter it with answers. Truth is, uncertainty is the way things are, and trying to fight is like trying to fight an angry bear with a wet fish. It’ll just leave you exhausted, scared and broken.

There’s no such thing as “having all the answers” and nobody knows what they’re doing all the time, despite how much they might pretend that they do.

So relax a little. Understand that uncertainty is natural, and when the urge to have the right answer bubbles up, know that doing your best is plenty good enough as a response. That’s all you can do, and it’s always enough.

Prioritise play over success

Expectation demands that you’re successful. Often, as quickly as possible.

It’s an expectation that can make you look at the surest way of achieving success, which may well mean getting a job—any job—so you can start earning the dollars.

Employment is a good thing, and earning money can be even better. Cash gets you stuff, like your own place, or travel, or big nights out. A lifestyle.

But success is a trap, peddled to you by people who don’t give a shit about whether you really succeed or not.

Extrinsic success is easy, cheap even. It means nothing, and it’s where many, many, many people find themselves some years down the line, feeling lost and with all self-confidence eroded.

So please don’t go pursuing success. Just look for where the energy is, look at what seems to be tugging at you, and look at what might be a whole heap of fun.

You don’t have to figure out what it might lead to and you don’t have to sweat whether it’s “sensible” (that’s looking for the answers again, right?), because simply engaging with something that connects, lands or resonates with you can open whole worlds to you that you never even thought of before.

Bottom line: meaningful success won’t happen all the time you’re chasing an extrinsic notion of success.

So it’s through play—through engaging with the things that make you feel joy or connected or in flow—that you find meaning, make connections and experience more success than fitting in with expectations will ever give you.

Stop comparing

Through your education, chances are you’ve had your performance compared with that of your peers. You probably do some of that yourself too. You see someone who seemed to ace every test and wonder how they do it so effortlessly. You see someone who’s pulling ahead and wonder what they’re doing differently. And you see someone who got landed an amazing job and wonder what they have that you don’t.

The system is designed for comparison, but it’s not just the fault of the system.

A 2002 study into primates showed that status equals survival, with monkeys who were higher in the pecking order having lower baseline cortisol levels (the stress hormone), living longer and being healthier. While (sometimes) not as hairy, us human beings aren’t so different. Your brain is hard-wired not only to figure out where you sit in the pecking order against others, but to reinforce your position in that pecking order.

To figure out who’s higher and lower in status your brain uses similar neuronal circuits as it does when processing numbers, giving people with a higher perceived status a higher “score”.

But today, every time you compare yourself to someone else, you threaten to:

a. undermine your self and your efficacy, or
b. inflate your ego and become an ass-hat

While some people will become arrogant ass-hats, more often than not the act of comparison just gives you ammo to beat yourself up with.

Comparison pushes you toward shame.

Stopping that cycle starts with understanding that the act of comparison compromises your ability to approach a decision or a moment as a whole human being. It starts by practising the noticing of comparison (“oh hey, what do you know, I’m comparing myself again”), a practice that creates the opportunity to do something different.

Comparison is irrelevant. The only thing that’s relevant is your ability to approach a decision or a moment knowing that you’re already whole and enough. That knowledge and that feeling doesn’t need anyone else to

It just needs your trust.

Let me know in the comments what your world is looking like after graduation, and how confidence and fear are showing up in that.

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