How Am I Expected to Be an Adult When COVID Didn't Let Me Be a College Student?

In March 2020, I was an eager freshman in college, excited for what the future had in store for me. However, I remember my anticipation being cut short when my entire school was sent home for what the administration predicted would be an "extended spring break." Little did we know that this break would turn into a global pandemic and we wouldn't see each other in person until January 2021.

Much of that 10-month period was a haze of anxiously watching the news, wistfully thinking about the new school and friends I'd been torn away from, and panicking about how all of this would impact my future — a future I thought was pretty clear-cut and established. The pandemic came and uprooted all of that, and the years that I was so often told would be "the best of my life" felt stolen from me and replaced by constant fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.

During this time, I had a virtual therapy appointment in which I unloaded all of these feelings of frustration. I remember expressing to my therapist my overwhelming sense of loneliness due to the pandemic. In response to all of this, she said that I was in mourning, which just really resonated with me.

What I had been grieving was what should have been some of the most formative years of my life. I have now celebrated three birthdays in a pandemic: my 19th, 20th, and, recently, 21st. This period of time should have been filled with carefree fun and excitement for adulthood. Instead, I spent all of this time in isolation as the world around me stopped. Not only that, but it became unclear what society would look like when things would finally calm down. I'd be lying if I said I didn't question if the world would even start back up.

Now as I am exiting my COVID haze in 2022, I'm wondering what the hell do I do now. I went into the pandemic having just gotten comfortable at my first student magazine, and now I'm applying for real adult jobs. The imposter syndrome is almost debilitating.

I feel behind, disoriented, and disenchanted as I look around me and realize that I am 21 and need to fit the role of "high-functioning adult."

I feel behind, disoriented, and disenchanted as I look around me and realize that I am 21 and need to fit the role of "high-functioning adult." The only experience I have are the virtual jobs I've had over the years in my childhood bedroom, and it's incredibly disheartening to reiterate this to professionals during interviews. But that's the reality of my situation, and I'm almost certain most people my age also feel this way, too.

Society is slowly recommencing, and my generation is expected to pick up a few steps beyond where they left off. It's frightening, and I've found that my self-assuredness has taken a serious hit because of it. Instead of entering my 20s feeling excited to take on my adult life, I've entered them with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy.

As a student, I've associated my self-worth with affirmation received in the form of grades and a GPA. As I enter adulthood, I find myself seeking this external validation more than ever from internships or jobs. I am desperately looking for someone to tell me that I am doing a good job because I missed out on three years that were meant to be filled with mentorship and instruction. I've been thrown so quickly into this stage of life, and I'm feeling lost.

I have found that everyone I've met and opened up to about this feels the same in one way or another. While COVID consisted of isolation, something we all gained from it was a connection formed by the shared experience of having lived through a pandemic and the impacts it has left on our lives.

I am 21 and fresh out of a pandemic. I won't have it all figured out, even when it feels like I am expected to, and that's OK.

In my internship, I have found immense relief in the friendship I've created with another intern. She is someone who understands my anxieties because she is also experiencing the same thing. Knowing that I am not alone when I feel lost in my newfound adulthood is so comforting.

Something else that has helped me navigate this uncertain point in my life is changing the way I approach my internships. I've learned to treat my internships as classes, and I've started asking supervisors to teach me about different aspects of the companies or answer questions I have about my career field. In school, you are handed lessons, but in the workplace, I've found that I have to ask for them. This was a big shift in mindset for me, but once I figured it out, I've been able to get that mentorship I've been looking for.

It is so easy to let my confidence waver when I feel unsure or inadequate in my jobs. In these instances, being less critical of myself has helped me put my circumstances into perspective. I am 21 and fresh out of a pandemic. I won't have it all figured out, even when it feels like I am expected to, and that's OK. We've all proven to ourselves that we can withstand extreme stress and uncertainty, and I am working to bring this self-assuredness with me into my postpandemic life.