As I frantically hand in my final term papers and wrap up my exams for the semester, a dull, aching sort of anxiety has made its way into the back of my mind. Similar to a persistent toothache, I feel it randomly. There are days when I forget about the feeling altogether, only to be reminded in the morning of a dreaded throbbing that no combination of journaling, Advil, or self-care can fix. I tried to ignore it and focus on the tasks ahead of me, however at a certain point, I was forced to sit down with myself and understand what exactly was causing me to feel so lost. 

The people around me had noticed how overwhelmed I had been feeling for the past few months, especially because anxiety does not normally manifest outwardly in my day-to-day life. After a few people approached me about my emotional state, I knew I needed to write until I figured out what exactly was causing me so much stress. 

It was then that I realized the underlying reason for this anxiety. It’s fourth-year syndrome and I’m about to graduate. 

I hadn’t experienced these feelings with my high school graduation. At seventeen, I was bright-eyed and ready to move across the country and start school in a place where I had no friends, no connections, and no idea what I was walking into. The past four years at Queen’s have been the most challenging and, strangely, rewarding years of my life, despite spending the majority of my undergrad critiquing the institution I was getting my degree from. Looking back, I can understand why I felt very little anxiety in my transition between high school and university. I had a concrete plan, derived from my parents, peers, and meticulous note-taking, about where I was going to go and end up. The steps were clearly outlined for me. To ensure my future success, I must go to university, get a degree, participate in extracurriculars, and graduate. 

Now, I’m at the point in my life where I have to craft an updated roadmap to success. Similar to many other students in their final years, I have no idea how to balance my passion with the reality of adulthood. I have to consider what I want my life to look like in terms of finances and family, and look for a career that will sustain me. 

I have always been the kind of person whose work is directly informed by their creativity. Since graduating high school, however, I’ve built up my resume with a number of jobs. Most of them were taken because I needed to support myself financially, rather than because I was enamoured by the work I was doing. Financial security is an aspect of life that I scarcely considered four years ago, but it is now driving almost every decision I make in my personal and professional life. 

For the last few weeks, I’ve been learning how to make spreadsheets, trying to grasp a basis of economics, and constantly working on my resume in order to appeal to prospective jobs. Despite the steps I’m taking to financially secure a path for myself, I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m looking at opportunities that span across multiple industries, trying to fit myself between the lines of each job description. Marketing, journalism, politics, editorial, and non-profit paths all sit right in front of me, yet I am filled with an overwhelming anxiety that any of these given paths won’t appeal to my interests in the long run. Worse, I could find myself stuck in an industry that fails to fulfill my creative interests, latched onto the position for monetary compensation. 

This fear isn’t something I have spoken about out loud. I don’t think it is a feeling that people in my position are open about generally, as it seems there is so much at stake. Yet I think we should, especially because fourth-year syndrome seems to be a common experience. 

Despite understanding that I need to balance my passions with the reality of rent, LinkedIn, and student debt, I still believe there is a balance between creativity and a 9 to 5 job that pays the bills. Instead of thinking about my life in 10 years, I’m trying to take things one step at a time, and come up with a list of industries that I think I could thrive in. I’m slowly learning to be okay with taking time to make important decisions about my future instead of having everything planned out in a neat, organized timeline. Life is messy. I am a chaotic, passionate, creative 21-year-old, and at the end of the day, I know I have the tenacity to forge a sustainable career path for myself. I just need a little more time than expected to get there. 

HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Stefania Morgante

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