The Power of Floating
Written by Krysta Scripter
"So, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?”
At the bar we’re chatting at, or from across the table at a coffee shop, I look back at a friend, a colleague, a former professor, and tell them plainly:
“I have no idea.”
I'm writing this six months after graduating, and I still have no clue where I want to take my career. As a journalism student, I tried it all: radio reporting, newspapers, magazines, podcasts. There were things I loved, and hated, about every single one. Each time I try to pinpoint the thing that really gets me excited, however, I’m left in a sea of indecision and almost apathy, yet I can’t help but give myself some grace for this period. It’s a weird time, being a graduate with no formal job. I work at a coffee shop. I do freelance photography gigs when I can. I’m writing, but not at nearly the same consistency as when I was working or interning during college. I’m floating.
I define floating here as “that weird period after college where you have no idea what the hell to do with the rest of your life.” It’s an in-between time full of uncertainty and indecision. It could be because of a string of failed job interviews, or opportunities not panning out the way you thought. It could be burnout, apathy, and an overall exhaustion that comes from going too hard for too long. For me, it’s a bit of everything, with a healthy dose of career anxiety. I could work multiple jobs while attending a full course load of classes, but without college structure, was I really just lazy? I could successfully apply for internships, but not “real” jobs? Was I not nearly as capable as I thought it was? Was I just going to fade into the periphery of my peers, become the one who took it easy and ultimately lost her drive? Was I going to spend the rest of my life making lattes?
At the risk of humble-bragging, I was objectively good at college. Internships, scholarships - you name it, and I had probably applied for it. At any point in time I was working at least two jobs, as well as extracurriculars and a full course load. By the time I graduated, I had four scholarships and three internships. I’m not sharing all of this to brag, I’m sharing this to show that I was hustling, and I was hustling hard. I was constantly moving, working on multiple projects at once, and always doing far, far more than was expected of me.
I’m proud of all my accomplishments in college. My mental health, however, took a serious dive in the process. I’ve written about my depression several times now, but the point is that college - while not the cause of my issues - was definitely a large part of it. I was consistently exhausted and stressed out. I was convinced I had to work harder to hide how awful I was feeling. Now, even though I’m still working multiple gigs and picking up work wherever I can, I don’t feel pulled in so many directions at once. Floating has put me in a better place, but so does not taking six classes and working two jobs.
At a recent journalism meetup, I watched as friends and colleagues shared all the things they had learned at a a conference in Denver. From dynamic multimedia projects to innovative initiatives, everything they discussed told me that they weren’t just succeeding at their careers, they were thriving, growing, and full of passion. Cut to me in the back row, feet tired from working behind a coffee counter all day, feeling very, very anxious and insecure.
Afterwards, a former professor of mine asked me what I thought of the meetup. She has been a friend and mentor to me for years now, and has always been aware of my previous mental health struggles. Unable to hide much from her at this point, I shared that listening to to another student’s incredible bilingual news media project made me feel small; like I was a burnout who crashed immediately after college.
She nodded as I spoke. “There will always be people behind you,” She told me. “And there will always be people in front of you. What matters is where you are right now.”
I spent the rest of the night sharing with her how much I was enjoying this time. I’ve been working out more and hanging out with friends. I help in friends’ gardens and check out art galleries. I picked up a library card, and have been having way too much fun rediscovering what it’s like to read for pleasure. I make quality time with my fiance, and I host tea parties with my friends.
"Sure, maybe I’m not working a 9 to 5, but I’m happy," I told her.
It’s easy to say “I wish I had figured this out before,” but it’s more complicated than that. I hung out with friends in college, and I even read a book (that wasn’t required for class) once or twice. My down time back then, however, was the equivalent of white noise on a tv - unproductive, uninspired, and too exhausted for anything else. There was always another interview to take, another story to write. Most of my energy was spent on time management. Now that the stress of juggling so much has been lifted off my shoulders, I have the room to breathe.
I’ve seen a good number of grads burn out hard after college. There’s a lot of pressure to find a job immediately. There’s the fear that you’re a failure who wasted their time at school if you don’t. I can’t help but think that the immediate, demanding rush to get into the workforce contributes to more burnout later down the road. Journalists in particular get a lot of burnout. Several colleagues of mine have quit jobs and turned to other fields because of the demanding work. I’ve seen older graduates take jobs immediately after graduation, only to come back a year later exhausted and wiped out. I don’t want to jump into a job just because “it’s better than nothing.” There’s only so much emotional energy I have - I’m not going to waste it at a job I’m not passionate about.
Floating is about more than just having time for myself. It’s about making sincere, genuine efforts to understand who I am. With the room to breathe, I can ask myself, “What is it that you want? What makes you happy? What’s worth working for?” Sure, I don’t exactly know what that is yet. The point is, I’m taking the time to figure it out.
Still, the nagging fear that I’m doing nothing with my degree takes over. It tells me that I’ve already peaked, that I’ll never find a real job, and that I really will spend the rest of my life behind a coffee counter. When that happens, I remind myself of all the things I am doing. I’m a freelance photographer for a local website. I’m always looking for work. The coffee shop I’m at needed a social media manager, so I stepped in (and negotiated a pay raise on top of that, too).
I’m happy to float. The thing about floating is this: it’s not going to last forever. I know I’ll get a “real” job eventually, probably with kids, and a mortgage, too. But right now, I recognize this period for what it is. It’s a chance for me to grow in new ways. It’s an opportunity for me to spark creativity in what makes me excited. It means more time for personal projects. It means more time to dream. It means more time to figure out exactly what I want to do, and to take the steps to get there. At the end of the day, I believe that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
When people ask me what I’m doing now that I’ve graduated, I smile and tell them I’m floating. I explain what that means, and then I tell them about the latest fantasy book I read. I tell them I’m thinking of starting a book blog. I tell them how much I enjoyed working in my friend’s garden. I talk about my plans for my apartment, my tea parties with friends, the latest photo I took.
Then, more often times than not, they tell me about the time they were floating, too.
Krysta Scripter is a writer and photographer in Reno, Nevada, where she graduated with a degree in journalism. She drinks a lot of coffee and listens to a lot of video game soundtracks. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.