My Facebook feed is once again saturated with pictures of togas, medals, and diplomas. Alas, it’s graduation season again—the season that never fails to remind me how much time has passed, and how little has happened since I graduated three years ago.

I can still remember, with a clarity that makes my head shake in regret, that I was filled with childish enthusiasm after I marched on the stage of PICC. The sweet release of graduation and the momentary high I felt from all the applause and congratulations I received that day stirred great excitement in me; I was thrilled for the next chapter of my life because for the first time ever, I was finally free to do whatever I wanted. Little did I know that life after graduation would be more constraining than life in college because freedom—freedom to choose your desired path or the life that you want to live, that is—it turns out, is a privilege only a few can enjoy.

After enduring four grueling years in college and nearly two decades of schooling, what I wanted to do next post-graduation was to rest, nothing more, nothing less. I wanted to rest for a year, relish the unemployed life, and do absolutely nothing save for a couple of leisure activities that have long been on my bucket list. But fate was not with me, nor could I play God to bend it in my favor. My rest needed to end sooner than I had planned as predicaments in the form of financial instabilities pressured me into getting a job two months after graduation.

Although I was able to rest, my short-lived respite was not enough to prepare me for the storm of adulthood. Having financial responsibilities and a barely livable salary, while carving out a niche for myself at work to achieve job security, is nothing less than an uphill battle for people like me in their early 20s. But since I have no generational wealth, nor a godlike ability to snap it into existence, I have no choice but to keep doing this indefinitely whether I like it or not. My coveted rest will have to wait.

The things I have learned after a year of pursuing advancements in my career while keeping my head above water are: 1) a graduate degree is the new undergraduate degree in the professional world, and 2) having one minimum-wage job is no longer enough for middle to lower class people to survive in this country.

To incorporate these learnings into my life, I decided to enroll in graduate school and juggle two jobs in order to keep up and survive in this difficult and unfair world we live in.

Aside from balancing graduate school and my two jobs, I also pay for my education and continue to help out in easing the financial burdens we have at home. With all the things that I am doing now, I can say with great certainty that I am tired, burnt out, and barely holding on at this point. Each day is a battle, and I fight by forcefully dragging one foot in front of the other—languishing, never stopping. But as I said, I have no other choice but to keep doing this.

I cannot help but laugh now at the excitement I felt after marching on the stage of PICC three years ago because my life today is nothing like  what I envisioned it to be when I graduated. The “Friends” theme song was right after all: no one told me life was gonna be this way.

My innocent, undergraduate self thought I would be free and in control of my own life by now, but I was never in control from the very beginning. For the longest time, it has been the other way around: life has been in control of me. I am but a mere marionette, with strings glued to my limbs, constantly manipulated by the puppeteer that is life—and there’s nothing I can do about it. Nothing.

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