The Hardest Part is Just Beginning
And you thought the four years you spent in college were hard? While I don’t dispute that college years are a very real part of life, life outside of undergrad has been infinitely more difficult for me to get the hang of. Living with roommates was a difficult transition, but living by myself was an even more difficult transition. Making it to the dining hall in my twenty-minute afternoon break between classes was hard, but making a budget and having to do my own grocery shopping was even harder (and oftentimes a great deal more depressing).
It’s Okay Not to Know What You Want to Do for the Rest of Your Life, But You Have to Do Something
When I started out college, back in 2007, I thought that I was going to graduate as a certified English teacher. That part happened. I also thought that my certification meant that I would become an English teacher. That part may not happen. Things change over the four years you’re in school. Unexpected events throw your sense of purpose and identity. The political science class I took my senior year made me wish that I had taken a broader variety of courses to really find my passion instead of just majoring in what I thought I was good at. My involvement in campus activities sparked my interest in social justice, human rights, and nonprofit work. Unfortunately, this meant that when I walked the stage last spring, I had no idea what I wanted to do next. My response to that lack of certainty was to go to graduate school. In retrospect, I don’t recommend this route. Take a year to work and figure out your passion before committing to more education, more debt, and more essays. Imagine my surprise when a year later, as I’m entering the final phases of my graduate program, I feel the same way I did with my BA. This time, however, I’ve decided that I need to be done with school, and so I’ve found a one-year position with a nonprofit agency. This leads me to my next point, which is
Nothing Has to Last Forever
That’s right. If you don’t know what you want to do, find something to do in the meantime and figure out what it is you really want to be doing while still being a productive member of society. There are plenty of temporary jobs available, and many may even help you find what your ultimate career goal is. If working in retail or the food service industry is less than ideal for you, try looking outside the typical box. What government jobs are locally available? Parks often offer work in the summer and on a part-time schedule through the fall and spring. AmeriCorps or similar programs offer a 1-year minimum commitment. Teach for America offers a two-year job placement. The PeaceCorps sends you abroad for just over 2 years. Any of these decisions will help boost your resume, if you highlight the right skills you gained (i.e. working at Barnes & Noble means that you gained valuable customer service experience), and none have to be permanent. For our generation, finding your career at the age of 22 is becoming less and less probable.
Enjoy the Present
College often feels like a state of flux, or some sort of purgatory between education and work. Working at a temp job in New York City or going to graduate school in Wisconsin may not have you waking up every day feeling as though you’re living the dream, and you may worry about what you’ll do next year or next month or even next week, but try to appreciate the incredible amount of possibilities you have as a young person without a significant amount of responsibilities. You have the luxury of going to NYC for a year to work low-paying temp jobs and live in a shady apartment and go to all the Broadway shows you can afford. You have the luxury of going into more student debt to get your graduate degree in something you feel passionate about. Try not to let the future feel like a crushing weight on your mood, but more like a wide open field in which you can run any direction for miles.