4 Phases Of Purgatory (A.K.A. Graduating With An Arts Degree)

It’s been a year since graduation and all your friends have gone off to do life-changing adult things. Ned’s engaged. Sophie’s buying a house. Aleph’s got a grown-up job. But while you, too, have been working hard and trying to balance artistic projects with paying rent, it feels like you haven’t actually done much.

Welcome to the temporary plateau of life after an arts degree. It happens to all of us – and you, too, will get out of it alive.


Stage #1 :  Liberation


You made it! You’re out of uni and the world is your canvas! You’re headed for a bunch of new experiences. You’re going to network your tongue off and find creative people to collaborate with. You’re going to send off those manuscripts, finish that portfolio, write those songs and make that short film! Live the dream!

Truth is, many people fail to find jobs in their chosen field straight out of uni. But don’t panic. This is good. Why? Because that means that you not getting into your dream job straight after graduation is not only common, but it’s okay.

You’re not a failure just because you couldn’t land that interview; it’s just the nature of this industry. It takes time to get into it. After all, fraduates need to become adaptable, which sometimes mean venturing into different roles and industries.”


Stage #2: Same Ol’ Routine


Life is monotonous at this point. You get home from work and, while some little part of you really, really wants to sit down and write one more chapter of that brilliant masterpiece of a novel you’re working on, the rest of you just wants to go to sleep. So you tell yourself you’ll definitely do it tomorrow. And then tomorrow comes, but you’re tired again – and so the cycle continues.

Having a routine is a double-edged sword, especially for us creatives: it gives your day structure, but it can also become draining very quickly. Change, within reason, is the best way to spice up your day.

Conni Biesalki suggests change in a variety of small ways. Hanging out with different people can not only broaden your social circle, but also give you new experiences. Alternate your routine, perhaps by changing your usual workout or commute time. Change your work route, try a different bus or maybe walk (maybe sacrifice a few minutes of sleep and see how it goes?).

Most importantly, try new artistic things. Read genres of book you normally wouldn’t. Go to art museums with exhibitions you haven’t heard of. Try different styles. As an artist, this will help you grow, and it will definitely give your routine a change.


Stage #3: Lagging Behind


Life is a video game and you’ve skipped the tutorial because you were so hyped on getting started. Now you’re deep within the first side quest and problems are catching up. Dear god – how the hell do you make your character run?

Take a breath. Everybody skips the tutorial. Even those friends who just bought their first house, or that one person who manages to travel everywhere in the world without ever appearing to have a job.

The Quarter-Life Crisis is real. You’re not a teenager anymore, but barely an adult. Like Patrick Allan wisely summarises: “It’s hard to make the smooth transition to a “real” adult when the world keeps telling you that you’re not one.”  Allan tells us the cycle follows five phases:

  • Phase One: You feel trapped by your life choices, like your job, relationship, or both. You’re living on “autopilot.”
  • Phase Two: You get a sense of “I’ve got to get out of this” and feel a growing sense that change is possible if you just take a leap.
  • Phase Three: You quit the job, end the relationship, or break the commitment that’s making you feel trapped. Then you detach and enter a “time out” period where you try to rediscover who you are and who you want to be.
  • Phase Four: You begin rebuilding your life slowly but surely.
  • Phase Five: You develop new commitments that are more in line with your interests and aspirations.


Stage #4: Liberation


You’ve made it! You’ve gone through a whole revolution and come out triumphant! And now you’ve learned and you tell yourself you will never make those same mistakes twice, so as not to go through the cycle again.

At no point in our educational career did anybody ever tell us how taxes work, how to manage money, how to pay utility bills, what the hell a mortgage is or what to do if the boiler stops working at 2 am (and it has – twice). We’re forced to learn all this in the time we hoped we’d be using to progress in our careers. So of course life will go by a bit slowly – at first, anyway.

Finally, remember that all those people you admire also went through this stage. Everyone has doubt. If they can get over them, so can you.


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