I recently began reading an interesting book titled, “I Just Graduated…Now What?” The ominous question lingering in the back of nearly every college graduates mind. A small percentage of college graduates groomed themselves for success straight out of college. He/she had a job lined up, steady income and knew where their lives were headed for the immediate future. I am sure “envy” crosses your mind when thinking about these individuals, but truth is, having it “all figured out” is nearly impossible.
I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in June 2014. Throughout high school, I maintained the idea that college would provide me with the opportunity to pursue a career of my choosing, accumulate wealth and integrate into the adult world. I focused on all the necessary pieces required to attend a university: played multiple sports, graduated in the top 25 of my class, participated in Student Government, performed countless community service hours, etc. etc. My one goal was to attend a university, because that is what aspiring teens are supposed to do.
My four years in Santa Barbara proved to be the best of my life thus far. I worked, studied (slightly), and was fortunate enough to meet people who will remain in my life, forever. As graduation drew closer, the ever famous “what are your post-grad plans” questions invaded my mind. My blissful college experience was coming to an end, and in all honesty, I had no absolute answer for these questions. I didn’t know what my future plans were. Shoot, I wasn’t looking beyond the weekend, let alone a year or two into the future!
Then, graduation. I was proud of my accomplishment, as were my family and friends. Four years of fun and [mostly] hard work had culminated into the next big step in my life: the “real” world. However, I quickly realized I did not have anything figured out. Not in the slightest. I moved back home with no idea of what the next step was. After years of preparation, handwork, and dedication, I felt like I had nothing to show for it. No “real” job, no clue.
It was around this time I decided (unknowingly) to take a pause, and live on standby. Now, there are numerous benefits to taking a pause after graduation. Living on standby provides an opportunity to reflect. Most of us graduate in our early 20s, and have had ample time to figure out who we are, and who we want to be. At least, that is how I felt.
The last year and a half since graduating have been nothing short of chaotic. I’ve worked numerous jobs simply for the sake of [attempting] to keep up on my bills, and at least provide a generic answer to “what are you doing now?” I’m working. “Oh, are you working within your field of study?” No, no I am not. But hey, I am working! Sounds like a breeze, right? Wrong.
Since graduating I have experienced a slue of emotional setbacks. The person I believed myself to be seemed to disappear entirely. I struggled with alcoholism; anger problems; self-doubt; romantic issues. The last thing on my mind was starting a career. All I was interested in was finding an exit route from my own mind! A lingering feeling of dissatisfaction loomed overhead. Sort of like a specter who always seems to be nearby, but never manifests itself physically.
Now, a year and a half after graduating college, I still struggle with figuring out where I want my life to go. My passion is, and always will be, helping others. Whether that be through direct contact, or writing these blog posts/poetry, it is an area in which I excel, and feel a deep sense of satisfaction. Against my immediate families better judgement, I am a firm believer in securing a job in which you are passionate about whatever it is you are doing. The old saying goes, “if you love what you are doing, you will never work a day in your life.” Oh how true that is.
Yet, here I am today, working odd jobs and struggling to get by. But I do write. Despite not having it all figured out, the past 18 months have allowed me the opportunity to institute monumental self-growth. I have experienced countless setbacks that have left me thinking to myself, “was it all worth it?” Ridiculous student loan debt, the inability to cover basic financial needs and no career in the near future. To the majority, I would be classified as a failure. But hey, I am alive, my family is wonderful, and I learn something new about myself everyday. It’s the little things.
What I am hinting at here is the simple fact that not having a plan after college is okay. It really is. Maybe I don’t have my life figured out, but I do have a firm grasp of who I am, and what that means to the people I care about most. This is a fact that is often overlooked. Personal growth trumps having a life plan every time. Period. I am thankful for all I’ve endured since graduating college. I had no idea who I was aside from how others perceived me. Truth is, setting aside time for introspection will be the greatest post-grad decision you will make.
Putting your career, and life on standby is crucial for true happiness. Too many people are caught up in the notion that a life plan focused on a career you may or may not love is the singular answer after graduating. Without “pausing,” and taking the necessary time to reflect, you will more than likely settle for something you have no passion for. Society pressures us to have it all figured out, without taking into account that happiness is of the utmost importance. I encourage all recent college graduates, and those who are graduating soon, to take time for yourselves. The answers manifest only after figuring out the person you are. Then, you will have a better understanding of the person you want to be.
So, if you dream about traveling the world, starting a blog, pursuing a life of charity, trying a new diet, do it. Take the time to pursue areas in which you are truly passionate about. There is time to figure it all out, contrary to popular belief. Because really, at the end of the day, it is all about what makes YOU happy. Focus on yourself, and the pieces of the puzzle come together with ease. Graduating college is not the end of the book, it is merely a chapter in a much bigger novel. Write as many new chapters as you can, because once you settle, for anything, it gets much more difficult to do all of the things you said you would before starting a career. Now, go out into the world and enjoy your early 20s. Come on, go!