Post-college regret and “The Opposite of Loneliness”
In May, a 22-year-old woman named Marina Keegan who had just graduated from Yale University died in a car accident. She had written an essay called “The Opposite of Loneliness” that was distributed in a special graduation edition of The Yale Daily News just days before her death:
KEEGAN: The Opposite of Loneliness (yaledailynews.com)
I’m sure that many of you have heard this story and have even read Marina’s essay. But I couldn’t write a blog about twenty-somethings and not at least mention “The Opposite of Loneliness,” which reflects many of the feelings that I had about graduating college and entering the real world:
When we came to Yale, there was this sense of possibility. This immense and indefinable potential energy — and it’s easy to feel like that’s slipped away. We never had to choose and suddenly we’ve had to.
I remember how, during orientation, my college had an open house event where the freshmen walked through one of the academic buildings, and each major had its own table with faculty members to speak with us. I remember thinking, “I could choose any of these majors.” My future was full of possibilities — I could be anyone, do anything.
But then I had to make choices: which classes to take, which major to study. And whenever I made a choice, all my other options disappeared. The possibilities that were available to me at that orientation event became smaller and smaller until I graduated, and there were no choices left. I was stuck with what I had: a humanities degree in a restrictive job market that I was now told had little use for liberal arts majors.
“For most of us, however, we’re somewhat lost in this sea of liberal arts. Not quite sure what road we’re on and whether we should have taken it. If only I had majored in biology…if only I’d gotten involved in journalism as a freshman…if only I’d thought to apply for this or for that…”
When I graduated from college, I wasn’t sure where I was going. I had no job in front of me, no acceptance to graduate school. I felt inferior compared to the graduates who knew precisely what they wanted to do; who were going to medical school or law school or had already gotten a job. I was angry at both myself and world around me: Why couldn’t I have chosen a more practical major? Why did the economy have to be so bad when I graduated?
“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”
I know now that it was silly for me to feel hopeless. If we think there are no possibilities for us when we’re 22-years-old, imagine how we’ll feel when we’re 30 or 40 or 50…or 100. We’ll look back at those years we spent moping and realize that it was time we could’ve spent growing and training to fulfill the potential that we may not have fully achieved in college.
“The Opposite of Loneliness” is uplifting and inspiring, but its optimism is undercut by its author’s untimely death. We like to think that as twenty-somethings, we have decades to make something of ourselves, but as with Marina, that’s not always how things turn out. So while I hope and plan for tomorrow, I also focus on what I can do today, because if Marina has taught me anything, it’s that you can be in your twenties and still make a positive impact on the world.