In the past week, I’ve been pleased to see my Facebook feed packed with photos of friends graduating. Without wishing to dampen the clearly well-deserved achievement of their degree, I wouldn’t want them to be unprepared for what I went on to learn. Everyone’s life is different, but a brief look at my social circle would imply that many go on to experience this.
Moving from university to living with parents is a difficult transition. At university you live with housemates who care little about, largely anything you do. You can spend your time doing virtually anything without the receiving the slightest moan. As generous as my parents are, I would not describe them as comparably relaxed.
The situation becomes more stressful still when you are financially beholden to them. When someone does you the kindness of providing some food, a bed and washed clothes, you’re hardly able to negotiate your freedom, lest they take away your crutch.
This then has an altogether more insidious effect; you begin to internalise this lack of control. Psychologists have a term called locus of control. If your locus of control is internal, you believe your life is firmly in your hands. If it’s external, you believe life is guided by factors beyond your control; like fate or luck. If you’re the latter, you’re less likely to put effort into anything and more susceptible to depression.
Just when you’re supposed to be reaching independence, you begin to feel overwhelmingly powerless and deflated. Your move back home, without a decent job secured can begin to feel like regression. This is not a mindset that is conducive to sending off job applications.
So, what can be done? Firstly, start exercising - and don’t stop. Aside from just being generally good for your health, taking the conscious choice to put on your trainers takes you out of the constrictive home environment. The gym became something that I looked forward to, because I controlled what I did. I designed my workouts before I went, and then relished the control I had once I got there.
Charles Duhigg, in his book Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive claims this feeling of control is vital. He recounts how research into the comparable situation of the elderly in care homes, suggested that those who exercised more control over their environment, lived longer.
But you don’t always feel like hitting the gym. As the risk of seeming like an exercise fanatic, that’s why it’s important to have group-based, automated exercise too - you feel more inclined to go because you don’t want to let people down - or waste money. I do a parkrun every Saturday morning with a friend; he tells me GPs are now prescribing them for depression. I do MMA (mixed martial arts) twice a week too, which makes me feel more confident.
Secondly, try to be more spontaneous. Settling into long-term mundane routines can kill your drive. I found that a weekly visit to work an internship in London, an impromptu visit to Bath, and attempts to learn to skateboard all helped me stay intellectually stimulated. This is a must if like me, you work a part-time job that lacks it.
Thirdly and finally, surround yourself with good people. That doesn’t just mean seeking good people, it also means cutting the bad ones out. There’s a self-help cliché which claims you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. It’s true. When you make friends you’re essentially answering the question of who you want to be. That sounds like a daunting thing, but it doesn’t have to be. Even if a sober assessment leaves you feeling socially isolated, that’s not necessarily the case. Despite this admission sounding terribly sad, I found podcasts really helped to fill the void left by corrosive friends. Listening to people I admired raised the standards of what I expected of myself - which can only be good.
So, if you find yourself back at home, without the job you were hoping for, don’t despair. Try to exercise some control over your surroundings, fight off atrophy and surround yourself with good people. Do all this, and you’ll change your mindset to feeling more in control of your future, and eventually you will land that desired post-uni job.