The importance of floundering for soon-to-be real adults

I am four months away from graduation, and I am scared. In a minute I will be excited, and in another I might be anxious, then I will take a deep breath and feel okay about it. Until the cycle starts over again. In the quiet lulls of conversations with my friends, I find myself asking them: so what are your plans for after graduation? I cannot tell if this makes me feel better or worse. I think I may take an unkind satisfaction in the comparison of my plan with their lack of one. Or I feel insecure at their acceptance letter in hand, while I am still writing applications.

The transition from college to true adulthood—or whatever you want to call it—sometimes feels like an Indiana Jones-style rickety wooden bridge that stretches across a huge chasm. When you drop a pebble off the edge of the cliff, you will not hear it hit the bottom. And the path ahead is shrouded in fog, so you can’t even see the other side, much less know what awaits you when you get there.

There are so many interconnected parts to life after graduation. I am planning on going to graduate school, and I am juggling applications, test dates, letters of recommendation and resumes. I do not know what city I will be living in so I cannot look for a place to live yet, or work. Each decision depends so much on the other that it makes it hard to have a plan. And for a future-oriented, Type-A person like myself, I find it really difficult to let go of that need to control.

I have been privileged and lucky in life. I have always known where I was going, and I have not failed at anything big that I really wanted. Sure, I got some bad grades here and there and did not get an internship I realized I never even wanted that badly. But I am not so naïve as to think that life after college will not have a lot more failures and floundering in store for me than I have had to face in the past.

“Flounder: to struggle with stumbling or plunging movements—usually followed by about, along, on, through, et cetera.” When I picture floundering, a series of scenarios play out in my head. What if I apply for a job, one I was counting on getting, and get rejected? What if I cannot pay my rent one month and really do not want to ask my parents for help? What if I decide to go back to school? These are all moments that will indeed leave me stumbling and plunging ahead into an unknown future.

But reread that definition again—it says “usually followed by about, along, on, through.” Contained within the definition of floundering is the prospect that you will eventually stop stumbling and gain your footing. You will go about your life, move along and get through it. There are a lot of opportunities to flounder in life after graduation, and that is exactly what they should be seen as: opportunities.

I think, for a control-freak like me, floundering will provide me with some much needed perspective. Here is the thing; no matter how hard I try, I make plans and I get attached to them. I will inevitably be disappointed when they do not go exactly that way. I think that not knowing will help me re-evaluate what really matters.

As an aside, I am not meaning to glorify struggle. There are much more immediate and debilitating struggles in life that a mere bit of positive thinking cannot fix. If someone’s basic needs are not being met due to poverty, homelessness or something else, their primary concerns are far from the existential questions I am talking about here.

This fact reminds me that I need to be grateful for the things I have, and not only that, but to include aspirations of social justice, allyship and serving others in my life plan. No one should be so self-involved in their struggle—whatever type of struggle that may be—that they stop caring about others. This is an important way that floundering has already helped me re-contextualize what matters in life.

Nevertheless, the question of what I am meant to do is still in the forefront of my mind much of the time. I am afraid of not having a safety net, but I think if I allow myself to fall through it, I can reach some depths of self-exploration that I was afraid to confront before.

I think it is easy to live a life you think you are supposed to be living, one that is comfortable, conventional and garners approval from your family. But I think it is really in the moments of imperfection and pain that we connect with our true calling. We find what it is we are willing to struggle for, rather than that with which we are merely comfortable.