The 8 Biggest Surprises in Post-Uni Life

Published on 3/4/2021

I left university in 2018, thinking I was pretty cool. Despite struggles with my mental illness, I managed to graduate, and I somehow thought I was ready for the world. It didn’t take long to realise that I had no clue what was going on and that I was far from ready.

Adulting comes with many surprises, some pleasant like the ability to choose what you eat every evening, and worse ones, like having to choose what you eat every evening. The world is your oyster, and you have no idea how to open it. Words get thrown at you like taxes, pensions and health insurance.

You’re excited to receive your first paycheck and then dismayed to watch it disappear to overpriced rent, soul-sucking taxes and more. But don’t worry, you’ll be faced with dozens of articles telling you that you should be saving about 20% of this money per month, with no way even to save €2.

Adulting is a wild rollercoaster, and the hardships of it are comforted when you realise so many others are experiencing the same struggles and surprises. So here were my eight biggest surprises for post-uni life; I’m curious whether you experienced them too!

1. Working 9-5

Nothing could have prepared me for employment after university. Firstly, there’s the matter of getting jobs and the toxic culture of unpaid internships, but I’ll address those later.

I worked hard throughout High School and university and graduated with pretty good grades. I took on a lot of extracurriculars, including organising and directing musicals. I kept busy, which was related to a myriad of mental health issues, but it still meant that I was used to having a lot on my plate.

But working a 9-5 is so much harder than it seems. I don’t know how this is the norm, given that it is exhausting. You start your Monday knowing that you have five full days to go before you can relax again. You finish your day tired, with few hours remaining to yourself. Then you go to sleep, and the whole ritual starts again.

The lack of freedom really affects. I miss having my own schedule, as even though you had classes, much of the time around could be designed by you. I miss being able to have a lazy day, to switch off, or to take an impromptu long weekend trip. I miss the freedom of planning my day as I see fit.

Suddenly you have a boss and a growing pile of responsibilities. You’re working every day, yet somehow you also need to do all the other things in your life, and when are you meant to plan doctors appointments or a trip to the hairdresser?

Of course, it goes without saying that we should feel grateful to have a job, when so many don’t. My point is simply that work-life was a shock to me. Also, in the culture of a workplace, how there is still gossiping and drama of its own. It seems like you never really grow up; you just find new situations to replicate High School.

I also never expected what industries would prioritise when it comes to a candidate or employee. They care so much about personality, which surprised me. Lucky for them, I hate a personality disorder, so personality is not in short supply. But seriously, an interview is more about who you are rather than what you’ve done, and it’s all about selling yourself. I could’ve saved myself some time and stress if I’d known that.

2. The world of taxes

I graduated three years ago, and I still have no clue how taxes actually work. Taxes really differ per country, but in the Netherlands, I feel like I just keep getting letters from them. Garbage taxes, water taxes and then annual taxes? Also, why do we pay taxes once per year if they also take some of our monthly salaries?

I realise that taxes surely serve a purpose, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. I miss the blissfully ignorant days of studying, when taxes were a far-off joke that didn’t weigh us down. I never expected to be paying so many types of taxes, and also so much. If I would’ve guessed, taxes would make up 5% of your salary or so, not the 35% that they do here. I remember seeing films where someone mentions their salary, and I’d think, “Damn, people really earn that much?”. Nope, as then the tax man came along to steal most of it.

3. Friends come, and friends go

This surprise comes on a sadder note. You forge incredible friendships during university. You bonded over tequila shots, homesickness and the excitement of new beginnings. You find yourself in others, and you enjoy great years together. These are friendships that will last forever, unlike the ones you left behind in High School.

Or will they? It was a surprise to leave university and watch some of those friendships fizzle away. It’s almost easier when one of you moves away, as then you have a more concrete reason for it. You try to keep in touch, maybe call once in a while, but also respect that you’re in different places.

But sometimes, you’re in different places emotionally rather than physically, which makes it harder to accept the friendship you’re losing. One could be working a 9-5 whilst the other is still studying or have very different schedules. Your interests could differ, your social groups, there are so many reasons for it, but it still comes as a shock to realise the person you saw every day has somehow become a stranger to you.

Friends are hard as an adult. They’re hard to keep up, they’re hard to evolve as you both grow and change. You know what else was surprisingly hard? Making new friends as an adult! I don’t know how people make friends anymore, when it used to come so naturally and easily. I remember the nervousness of trying to evolve a work friendship into more. I wanted to invite her out for dinner or drinks without seeming like I was hitting on her. People also mention making friends in exercise classes, but how? I’m sweaty and disgusting, and by the end, I’m just trying to catch my breath again. Everyone’s rushing out the door; how do you stop someone and make plans?

4. Alcohol is both friend and foe

I used to drink a lot in university. I was in a sorority, and we were pretty dedicated to having a good party. I used to wake up the next morning and go to class, or go to clean up after the party. Catch up on sleep, and then repeat.

As I mentioned, I graduated three years ago, and yet somehow in that short space of time I’ve lost my ability to drink. I get drunk far easier and don’t make it to the end of the night.

And the hangovers! People always joke about the hangovers you get as you grow older, but I was still unprepared for them. It makes you second guess drinking at a party or with friends, as you know that you’ll need to clear the entire next day. The nausea, the headache, the regrets. My hangover now has a tidy dose of anxiety, as I replay everything that I did the night before and hate myself for it.

They talk about going wild in your twenties, enjoying the ‘last of your youth’, but when? I cannot deal with a hangover whilst I work in the office. Our twenties are also supposed to be about getting serious with your ambition or job, everyone seemingly has a side hustle, but how are they finding the time for all of this? Please enlighten me.

5. Housing is impossible

I love the series, Friends, to the extent that I can quote episodes off by heart - it’s a great party trick that no one asks for. But since leaving uni and entering the awful real world, I can’t even turn to my familiar friends for comfort. Because all it does is enrage me, for how could they possibly afford that luxurious apartment?

All the shows of my youth tricked me into thinking I could have a cool and spacious apartment in my twenties. One big enough to throw house parties, entertain guests, and purchase cool matching furniture. Nothing in my apartment matches, as it was all obtained for the cheapest price.

But aside from that, there is the apartment itself, and the issue of finding one. How are there so few apartments in major cities? You see all these apartment blocks or rows of houses, and yet none are available? For every listing placed, at least thirty people respond, and those odds are not favourable. Why is it so hard to find a decent home post-uni?

And how are they allowed to charge such exorbitant prices? They say that you should spend a maximum of 30% of your salary on rent. Either people are earning way more somehow, or they’re finding magically cheap apartments. The majority of people I know at this age spend 50% of their salary on rent. This was so disheartening to realise, as 50% of our monthly income goes to having a roof over our head. Not even to food or another core need, but just to being able to sleep indoors. Prices are only rising in most places.

But if these high rent prices weren’t bad enough, there’s the fact that they don’t even let you move into them. In many cities, such as Utrecht, where I live, most landlords will require you to earn 3-4x the monthly rent to be eligible for a place. If someone makes €3200 per month, there is no chance that they want your tiny box studio for €800. And why do I have to prove myself to rent your place? I’m signing a contract, and yet forced to jump through dozens of more hoops.

Honestly, the real estate industry seems like the place to be, and no one prepared me for this.

6. How useless my degree actually is

I got a liberal arts and science degree, majoring in Psychology and Anthropology. And I know that Psychology can be used in anything, and I probably use it in my daily marketing work, but even so, I’m come to realise that my degree is pretty useless. Most degrees are.

My point is that we held the misconception that university was preparing us for a job. We then left university to find that it’s difficult to get a job in your field, and you’re instead offered unpaid internships. You paid thousands to study for three years, and then your reward is to work for no money.

How are unpaid internships still a thing? Especially if you’ve got a degree near relevant? I understand not paying a proper salary, as you’re giving them a lot of experience and education, but pay them something. Even if it’s just €25 a day, pay them something for their time.

I thought my degree made me entitled to jobs, but that isn’t the world we live in. A degree shows that you committed to something and worked hard, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get anything from it. You have to gain experience, refine your interview technique and apply to dozens of jobs. Your degree isn’t enough on its own, and that was quite a surprise to realise.

7. It turns out everyone does cocaine?

I thought this could be a Dutch thing, but I confirmed it with a friend from the UK and one from France. It seems like we were all shocked to leave university, where partying was quite a thing, and realise that most of the adults we know do cocaine.

I’m not really one for drugs, as they mess with my depression and anxiety, so instead, I just get too drunk. To each their own, my point is simply that I never realised cocaine was such a normalised thing. It had always seemed like this crazy party drug for someone spiralling out of control; I don’t really know what I thought.

But people do cocaine at work? Like you’ll enter a bathroom and find a mirror covered in the dust of it. People do cocaine in public, or even at a small gathering of people. It’s normal apparently, and I never saw that coming. I still remember the first time I entered a bathroom at the party to find someone snorting off the counter. I was so embarrassed and apologised, but they were utterly casual about it, no biggie apparently.

I’m not here to recommend drugs, and I’m not here to judge them, simply to say that I was surprised to find how ordinary cocaine apparently is.

8. Growing up

I thought that you find your identity in High School; that’s what movies and books always told me. All ‘coming of age’ stories happen during that period and leave the protagonist as this fully-fledged individual by the end of them.

When that didn’t happen, I assumed that identity formation occurs in university. But I did many things in university, and properly finding myself wasn’t one of them. Now I’ve graduated, and I’ve been released into the big bad world, and I know that you don’t find yourself, at least not once. I was surprised to discover that we’re constantly changing and finding a new version of ourselves. We don’t stop growing in our twenties, and I doubt that we will in our thirties either.

I used to think that twenty-five was old, and probably when I’d get engaged or settle down. I’m turning twenty-five in November, and I feel like a baby myself. I’ve come to learn that twenty-five isn’t old, thirty isn’t old, and thirty-five also. We’re slowly removing these archaic labels and realising that young is not an age; instead, it’s an openness to the world and everything it offers. You don’t have to have it all figured out now, as everything will change in a few years anyway.

I was surprised to find that I’ve still got a lot of time, and a lot more to learn.



Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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