I remember my first day back at home after graduating college... mainly because I spent it laying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, terrified of not knowing what was to come next. I felt like a giant baby that suddenly needed her parents to look after her again, and it took me a while to really figure out how to be an adult in the real world (that's not to say I've mastered it yet).
If I could go back and give that scared, 22-year-old hiding under her covers one piece of advice, it would be this: Snap out of it, Brigid. The struggle to find one's place in the world is universal, and it won't stop when you get a job, or an apartment, or the perfect romantic partner. It will continue — you will continue to grow, evolve, shift careers, shift locations, fall in and out of love, travel, find friends in the most unlikely of places, and take a wider interest in the world around you. And, I know it seems totally untrue right now, but amidst all the chaos, you'll even realize that perhaps the things you thought were important at 22 aren't so important after all.
I'd encourage anyone who feels lost in life, recent graduate or not, to take comfort in the fact that everyone endures a period of being lost. All we can do is embrace the chaos, much like many of our favorite literary heroes and heroines do. For anyone who has ever felt stuck in an extended adolescence, or unsure of the person they'd like to be, here are 10 characters from books who act as a comforting reminder that, in the oft-confusing quest to forge our identities as adults, we're not alone.
Benjamin Braddock From The Graduate by Charles Webb
The poster child of the post-college rut, Benjamin Braddock whittles away his empty days by striking up an affair with an older married woman. Though his romantic liaisons seem like the stuff many twentysomething guys' dreams are made of, Benjamin's relationship with Mrs. Robinson masks a much deeper confusion about what he wants from the adult echelon into which he has been thrust.
Johanna Morrigan From How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
If the novel's title isn't clue enough, its teenage protagonist Johanna Morrigan uses reinvention (even giving herself a new name) as an escape from her dreary life. How to Build a Girl is for all of us who have struggled with the grass is always greener syndrome when choosing the lifestyle, career, and relationships that will define our early adulthood.
Rachel From The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow
Rachel, the heroine of Heidi Durrow's 2010 novel, struggles to carve out a place for herself in the world while bearing the weight of a troubled family history. The courageous, yet lost young woman embodies the experience of growing up biracial in a society too eager to label her according to its whims.
Sam From Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin
The epitome of a bored twentysomething living in modern-day New York City, Sam (an extension of the author's own persona) puts less energy into his writing career than he does gchatting and endlessly surfing the Web. Though Sam's life seems to run without any major pitfalls, his malaise is an eery reminder of the zombielike state we can easily succumb to as we are engulfed in increasingly tech-saturated lifestyles.
Elisabeth from Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves
Embarking on a devil-may-care journey to escape the mundaneness of home, and to find her place — both literally and figuratively — in the world, Elisabeth Eaves' autobiographical tale is a testament to the positive and negative ways that longterm travel can affect those seeking an alternative to the usual post-college routine.
Esperanza Cordero From The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Through the eyes of young Esperanza Cordero, we see what it means to weigh one's dreams for the future against strong ties to heritage, family, and home (in her case, home is a tight-knit Latino community in Chicago). Esperanza yearns to break out of her surroundings, to escape Mango Street in search of a different lifestyle, yet her sense of self seems tied to the community she's always known. Can one ever really discard her upbringing in favor of a new identity?
Jen Fain From Speedboat by Renata Adler
No one ever said that forging a life in the big city is easy, least of all Jen Fain, the observant voice of Renata Adler's Speedboat. Jen's straightforward, simple observations of the world around her speak to those of us trying to make sense of existing in a metropolis, navigating life among thousands of others trying to do the same.
Elyria From Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
In a rash attempt to cast off her identity in favor of a new life, Elyria of Nobody is Ever Missing does just what the title implies, disappearing from her family and friends in New York and fleeing to New Zealand, where she wanders aimlessly from one experience to the next.
Lynn from An Education by Lynn Barber
Transitioning from adolescence to full-fledged adulthood is confusing enough as it is; for Lynn Barber, who wrote her memoir An Education in 2009, "confusing" would be an understatement. At the age of sixteen, Lynn, encouraged by her parents, plunged into an affair with an older man. The young student's ambitious journey toward higher education and career success is a bumpy one to say the least, yet Lynn's refusal to let outside influence and one ill-advised relationship cloud her future is a fascinating testament to making it in the world on one's own terms.
Gregor Samsa From The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Forgive me for stating the obvious here, but was there ever an identity crisis more literal than that of man-turned-giant-insect, Gregor Samsa? If Gregor's struggle to relate to his family while adapting to his new, err, lifestyle isn't the best example of the fish-out-of-water many of us feel like when we return home after graduating college, then I don't know what is.
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