These past few months have not been easy. Fuck the sugarcoating: transitioning from being an international student in a foreign country to being back at your parents’ house and re-adapting to your old life is a painful process. It’s harder when the culture and lifestyle you’ve been enjoying for 3 years don’t match the ones in your home country.
It’s worse when you’ve got no friends to return to once you’re home.
And, from personal experience, it’s even worse when you start a new job right after you’ve arrived. No time to settle into old routines. No time to recharge and go through the whirl of emotions going through your head.
Unfortunately, time doesn’t stop. Life goes on, even when you have the post-grad blues. It feels like a race, sometimes, where you can’t slow down or stop, or you’ll feel like you’re falling behind.
If you’re going through this right now, know that you’re not alone. And know that it will slowly but surely get better.
But how? The first step is to find a hobby.
How it all came down to this
When I had just come back from Malaysia after completing my studies, I was thrown into the working world right away. I attended my first work meeting literally 2 days after I landed. I had to move in as quickly as possible and settle into a ‘new’ home. My entire schedule revolved around work, family, and convenience.
No time for myself.
And that was my mistake. I didn’t adjust my time to please me, instead, I abode to external factors. I stopped working out, something that I was used to doing religiously; I started drinking too much because I felt the ‘new’ culture required it; I was constantly moving around because transportation sucks and I had faraway places to go to.
I felt unhealthy and ended up feeling unhappy and frustrated about my life. Post-grad life felt like hell.
I didn’t even have the motivation to post anything online… especially because my job consists of writing, blogging, Instagramming, and all the stuff I used to be excited about. (Bridging work and fun isn’t so easy, guys, remember that!)
But you know what I actually looked forward to every weekend? Playing the piano.
What inspired this blog post is the realisation that not all my hobbies turned into career aspirations, as I thought they did. Instead, some of them stayed as they were: a hobby, nothing more. A real hobby.
What having a ‘real hobby’ means
I’ve had many hobbies throughout my life. From painting to writing to making jewellery… I pretty much did every artsy hobby ever.
And every time, I’d end up with one of these two outcomes:
- Either I’d lose motivation and give up on the hobby, or
- I’d make it my career aspiration.
Paint professionally. Write professionally. Sell jewellery. Become a film editor. I’ve been through them all. Did my research on potential universities and degrees, and everything.
But I feel that, at some point, if a hobby becomes your ‘work’, it stops being a hobby. It’s a passion, a lifetime endeavour, an ambition. It’s a skill you would love to master… even if it burns you out at times, even if you love it one day and hate it the next.
It’s not a real hobby. For me, a real hobby is something you do and you absolutely love to do… but you never intend to ‘upgrade’ it to something more. And because of that, you somehow never get tired of it. There are no expectations to reach. It relaxes you in your most stressful moments.
For some people, it’s yoga or running or painting… but for me, it’s playing the piano.
Identifying my hobby: a case study
Here, I’m going to go a little more in-depth about my piano playing hobby: how I found out about it and how I intend to integrate it in my post-grad life. Feel free to skip to the last section if you get tired of my ramblings 😉
I’ve been playing the piano as long as I can remember. When I was just a little girl, I’d receive these one-octave piano toys as birthday/Christmas gifts, probably because it was the trend at that time.
Meanwhile, my godfather was an avid amateur musician: he owned an electric keyboard and a guitar… but it was only with the keyboard that we played. He’d teach me how to play ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Frère Jacques’… and he was probably the one who taught me the basics of piano keys, the basic C-scale. I’ve known my do-re-mi‘s for as long as I can remember but to this day I have no idea how I learnt them.
I fell in love with the piano… but as much as I begged my parents about it, I never got the chance to enrol in piano classes. We couldn’t afford an acoustic piano, let alone the lessons which were held really far from where we lived.
To this day, I’ve never had a piano teacher nor did I learn the piano on a professional level. This is kinda sad but this is also how it remained a hobby, which I’m grateful for.
When I was 10, my grandpa gave me an electric keyboard. It didn’t have 88 keys but 61 was still pretty awesome! I didn’t know anything about music sheets at that time so I literally played everything by ear. With my right hand only, of course, I’m not that of a genius. And every Christmas, I’d auto-play the ‘Jingle Bells’ song which was encoded in the keyboard (if you have that option, you can’t not do that!). It was great, it was fun.
I was playing for me and myself only… like I still do today.
In secondary school, we had music classes. As you may guess, we learnt how to play the recorder. But what excited me about this class was learning how to read music notations. We learnt everything about staffs and the treble clef… just what I needed to go up a notch in my piano sessions. So I’d bring the recorder music sheets at home and play it on my piano.
That’s when I got into piano playing HARDCORE.
And yet, I still didn’t think of it as more than a hobby. Never dreamt of becoming a professional pianist. Wasn’t interested. I just wanted to play for the sake of playing.
After the music classes ended, I decided to buy a beginner piano lessons book (hi to those good old days when googling wasn’t the answer to everything). I studied the minimum, like the bass clef and playing with the left hand, and started experimenting with music sheets I’d find on the internet.
When I look back at my old music sheets, I’m amazed at the dedication I had and yet surprised to learn that I did make progress, though slow and undisciplined. My first few piano sheets were filled with key labels, like I would write “C#, F#, G#” next to that particular key signature… but now I can say I read a music sheet pretty fluently and key signatures don’t scare me anymore.
When I left for university, I missed practising my piano skills. I missed playing. 3 years without a piano. I bought a ukulele as a musical substitute but nothing beats a piano for me.
And now, post-grad me is back at it… still without the intention to take it further than a personal hobby. I even bought a better electric piano (not keyboard this time!).
It’s crazy how I’ve never felt tired of playing. And I thought to myself: that’s how a real hobby should be. Instead of tiring you, it excites you. It lightens you up. But it doesn’t burn.
So every weekend, I dedicate myself to my hobby, putting aside all the stress in my life, all the expectations, all the failures, and all the losses. I lose myself in the music… in the hopes of coming back to reality with a refreshed and happier mind.
Yes, a hobby really helps
After you graduate, there’s a lot of pressure that’s put on your ability to find a job and having it all figured out. It’s all about ‘what’s next?’ and ‘how to be successful?’ and that’s often what’s making us feel lost and depressed. It’s a lot about ‘how to reach the top’ instead of ‘how to take care of myself’.
Finding a personal hobby which has absolutely nothing to do with your professional life is… rejuvenating. It will refocus your thoughts on what makes you happy. You as a person, not as an employee or a breadwinner or responsible party.
A hobby helps you find yourself again after you’ve been thrown here and there and left lost in a new scary world.
Maybe you’ve changed. Maybe you are no longer the university student or the high-schooler you were. So who are you now?
Time to reflect on yourself, on your new life, and find out on your own. Find what you love to do. Find that balance between personal and professional.
Don’t worry; you’ve got this 🙂
What was your post-grad blues experience? Let me know in the comments below!
D. K. Waye.