Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: While I did very well in school and attended a prestigious university, I can’t help but feel down. I procrastinated a lot — I went into college hoping I would grow out of that, but I still did it, even though I got good results in the end. I haven’t yet found a job, mainly for lack of trying, though I have a plan for next year. The job search was just overwhelming and my response to “it’s too much” has been to shut down. Not a good thing, I know!
So now I kind of have this feeling that since I didn’t try, I might as well continue not trying because it’ll be pointless anyway. This isn’t true logically, but it’s still there. How can I move on from this?
Getting Over Apathy
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I’m going to do what I set out not to do when I started this column: skip trying to answer you and advise good counseling — and by “good” I mean really solutions-oriented, someone who will explore with you possible underlying conditions. ADHD, for example.
I’m not doing this because you’re a hard case or because your struggle is unusual, but because achieving plus chronic procrastination suggests this isn’t just about “growing up.”
So take your questions about yourself and your habits and your performance to someone who can help you find pragmatic answers, and from there develop strategies based on your nature and your strengths. It’s ridiculously common for us to think we’re broken when really we’re just on a path that doesn’t suit us or we have obstacles that haven’t been diagnosed.
That there’s a Right Path for Everyone is a message our schooling tends to drill in, providing rich soil for your kind of discontent. Add to that a system that still isn’t great for recognizing and serving alternate learning needs, and there are a lot of people who are getting by only at great cost to their senses of self.
A trained guide can offer strategies, and even the “aha” moment you crave.
Re: Apathy: I’m in my mid-20s and work with undergrads. The ideal of college is so set on “being an adult” immediately out of high school, finding yourself, experiencing new things, getting a great education, and having fun all at once, that at times I find the whole thing paralyzing and I’m not even a student.
Give yourself a break for not doing it all, and take a minute to be done. Then, get serious about applying for jobs. If you have to move home to do that, then move home with a plan. Maybe it’s applying to five jobs a week, or 10, and then do it. It’s scary and disappointing.
But it’s scary and disappointing for EVERYONE until it works out.
Re: Apathy: Are you by chance a high achiever? I used to get overwhelmed and upset when I couldn’t do something perfectly or the “right” way. My response was to just not do it at all, which is not helpful.
Instead of agonizing and avoiding, take small steps and be glad when something is done rather than done perfectly.
Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” could be useful here as well.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.