I graduated with a master’s degree in political sciences three years ago, in June. The change was fundamental, as I had been a student basically throughout my twenties. I had also been working the whole time, but my studies had been sort of an anchor in my life. The student grant, loan, and housing allowance had been the foundation of my humble income, and they had provided me with security even during summers if I couldn’t get enough hours at work. I felt safe being a student and, naturally, was a bit anxious about graduating.

Don’t get me wrong, I was also looking forward to graduating. I had spent the last two years working a job that was part-time, but it was my first job in my own field. I finished my thesis at a brisk pace because I thought I was ready to leave my studies behind. I also wanted to take advantage of the student loan tax deduction.

In May, I handed in my thesis and began to prepare myself for closing the book on student life. I requested my degree certificate, returned the literature that had taken over my apartment while I wrote my thesis, and got ready for the closing of my student email account by backing up important messages. Of course, I also applied for jobs. When I graduated, I was working part-time, so I had to register as a job seeker to be eligible for an earnings-adjusted daily allowance.

All of the above have to do with the practical side of things—but how about the mental and emotional side? I didn’t have the courage to stop and think about that until I had no other choice.

I had traveled to London for a vacation immediately after handing in my thesis, and we were walking along the Thames on the first night. We stopped at the Tower, and I broke out into tears. Why? I had no idea. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so low. Everything was supposed to be great, right? Yet, I felt anxious and sad, and I wanted to go home and be left alone. I started crying in similar fashion several times after that.

Over the summer, it became clear to me that my graduation and the change it brought had burst a bubble that been building up for many years. My studies had been really stressful at times, and I have a tendency to expect a lot, especially of myself. Nothing short of perfect will do. Over the previous year, I had applied for jobs without receiving any interview invitations, which is always tough, of course. I hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in many years, and I thought it was perfectly normal to wake up several times every night. Life had felt like a series of mandatory chores for a long while.

My new normal got off to a slow start, but I was cautiously optimistic. My perseverance in looking for jobs paid off when I got a full-time job that autumn. Thanks to the people I met at work, I was finally able to start working on the mental side of things because I understood that there’s no need to be ashamed by it. On the contrary, we should have the courage to talk about depression and burning out more openly. I’ve subsequently moved to a new job, and I enjoy my work wholeheartedly. The funny thing is that I now work at a job for which I applied three years ago, the last time the position was vacant. However, I still vividly remember the post-graduation feelings of uncertainty regarding the future. That’s why I want to say this to you, the one that’s graduating now: be gentle with yourself and take care of yourself!

Working life is unstable, especially now, and many recent graduates will struggle with unemployment at first. I’m sure that many of them are losing sleep over it. There’s only so much one can do about finding a job, and job hunting can sometimes feel hopeless and random. In the middle of all these uncertainties, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last, to experience unemployment. It doesn’t make you a bad person or diminish your skills in your field if you receive one “We’re sorry to inform you that we chose another person for the position” email after another. You’re not weak even if you lose your fortitude in the middle of it all. Remember that help is out there: you don’t always have to—and you’re not always able to—handle everything by yourself. And one more thing, of course: remember to congratulate yourself! You’ve accomplished a great feat by finishing your studies!

Photo: Iiris Hynönen

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