What's Life Like After Harvard?

They say when you graduate, "The world is your oyster." This is true: it's sort of an acquired taste, smells odd, and has limited living space available in your price range.

At Harvard, people like to impart the idea that you are a mover and shaker. "Go out there and move things and shake things," they suggest. "That's what Mark Zuckerberg did, and look at him."

So you do your best. You get a job. If you don't get a job, you get an internship -- which is like a job, but with overtones of Ugly Betty -- or you go to graduate school, or you move back into your parents' home and sit around making strange clicking noises while watching The Social Network on loop. "This is what Mark Zuckerberg did," you say, "and now look at him."

But things are different now.

Someone moved the stakes higher. At college, if you awoke with the kind of headache usually reserved for Greek gods who were using their crania to give birth to other Greek gods, you did not really have to get up and go anywhere. In life, you do. The worst thing that happens to you at college if you fail to get out of bed in time is that you will miss two hours of someone reading scintillating anecdotes about Medieval Ireland. The worst thing that happens to you in life if you fail to get out of bed in time is that you might lose your job as a first responder.

You find yourself yelling at college students to keep it down. "Stop carousing!" you yell, shaking a broom at them. "I have work to do!" This is true. At Harvard, you could pretend that you had gotten through an entire book by close reading one passage and saying it reminded you of Nietzche. This no longer flies. "What do you think of the START treaty, Alexandra?" your co-workers ask. You stare at them blankly. "It reminds me of Nietzche," you mutter, finally. "That's the most idiotic thing I've ever heard," they say. You have never gotten this response before, and you have no idea what to do, so you go hide in the bathroom for eight hours until everyone leaves the office.

The last invisible barrier separating you from the Actual Adults has fallen. Suddenly, you are expected to interact socially with people in their forties and sixties. "Thanks, sir," you say. "Call me Neil," they tell you. "Sure, Sir Neil," you answer. You are doing your best, but it's all moving too fast.

Your friends are no longer at your beck and call. You can call them, but they won't answer. "They think they're too good for me because they live on the West Coast," you grumble to yourself, forgetting that, in Pacific time, it is four o'clock in the morning. Of course, you have friends all over the world now! This is exciting, except that it makes it difficult to go to the Kong with these friends at 2 a.m.

But it's more than that. You are no longer bound in lockstep with your peers. At college, everyone's milestones occurred in shared clumps. Everyone studied, caroused, won, lost -- simultaneously. Life is not like that.  "Life," they say, "has no final exam." Well, life doesn't even have a final creative group project that is sort of a waste of your semester! And milestones occur at different places in different paths. Someone is getting married. Someone else is getting cast. Someone else is going to law school. You have to choose to share these things -- and not just on Facebook.

After you graduate, they encourage you to network. You show up at something called an Alumni Networking Evening and find yourself cornered by an old man who sweats heavily and claims that he "might have gone to the B-school, but the Sixties were sort of a blur." He gets the idea that you are involved in The Biz and can have his play produced on Broadway, and he won't stop calling your home late at night. "Harvard opens doors," he hisses into the phone. You decide never to network again.

On good days, it's fantastic. "This is life!" you mutter to yourself.  On bad days, it's awful. "Is this life?" you ask, as a taxi ruins your shoes, but not in a fun, Carrie Bradshaw way. "I bet there are kids alive right now who don't even know who Carrie Bradshaw is," you think, wilting. "I'm losing my youth! I'm losing my youth!"

Deep down, you know you have to begin to let go.

But not just yet!

Alexandra A. Petri ’10, a former Crimson columnist, is an opinion writer at The Washington Post.

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