an open letter to the college grad has no idea what's next
Three years ago, I was about three weeks out from my college graduation, and about three lightyears away from having any idea what my life was going to look like next. Ever-prevalent during my final semester was the question, “What are your plans for after graduation?” Subsequently, ever-prevalent was anxiety in my 21-year-old heart, because the polished responses so many of my peers were able to produce, I myself was unable to.
I remember clearly the dread I felt at receiving this question, and the subtle disapproving look my lack of an answer was met with—though looking back now, I’m fairly certain the latter was more my own perception than it ever was reality. Still, I desperately wanted to have an answer, to know what was next for me.
Graduating from college is mixed bag of emotions. You’re happy to be done with school work, but sad to watch roomies become long-distance besties. It’s absolutely cause for celebration—after four years of endless exams, papers, and all-nighters, walking across a stage to receive your diploma is an accomplishment to be proud of. But it’s also cause for weighty anxiety. For over two decades of your life, you’ve always had the next step pretty much laid out for you—aside from any extracurricular activities. Sure, you got to decide if your free time was spent playing soccer or learning the flute but at its core, your path was decided for you. Graduate from one grade? Great, head on up to the next.
But the second you move your tassel to the left, suddenly everything shifts. Now, there is no prescribed next step. You’re left to figure out the vast, unfamiliar world of adulting on your own, and it feels sort of like a free fall—both exhilarating and terrifying.
I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll never have adulting fully figured out, but I do know more now than I did three years ago. If you’re graduating college and have no idea what’s next—or if you’re in any other season of life and finding yourself stuck and unsure of what’s next, below are some words that would have helped me then—maybe they’ll help you now.
DON’T FREAK OUT IF YOU DON’T HAVE IT FIGURED OUT
Even if it feels like everyone around you has it all figured out, chances are, they don’t. Many of my peers who had a polished answer or job lined up three years ago are not still working in those same fields today. The ones who are, they’re mostly the ones who knew exactly what they wanted to do since kindergarten—which is awesome, but very much the anomaly. For most people, it takes some time to figure it out, so give yourself grace. An online entrepreneur I follow on Twitter recently pointed out how, when he was 22, his current career—social media—didn’t even exist. Times are always changing and so are you—so don’t buy the lie that you have to know your exact calling and career before you even finish taking finals. For me, one month after graduation I was offered a temporary job which quickly turned into my current position—one I hadn’t even sought out. Though in an industry I would have never expected, it has allowed me to hone my skills in a field I very much love—communication (this blog being a huge part of that 😉). All I’m saying is, don’t feel panicky if you don’t have it figured out—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be proactive in exploring possibilities. Which leads to my next point.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY DIFFERENT THINGS OUT
Looking back, I see that much of my anxiety came from a fear of getting it wrong. I was afraid to pick something to pursue, because what if I didn’t like it? Also, because I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do, I was overly concerned with what others would think. What would a certain career choice say about me? Nowadays, the more I step into my purpose, the less need I feel for approval. But it's not just people's approval that trips us up. Especially as Christians, I think we sometimes find ourselves paralyzed, because we’re afraid to take one step forward unless we’re 100% certain that step is what God has called us to. While there’s great wisdom in making prayer as a central component of this process, we also have to work with God. A GPS navigation system stays silent when the car is parked, but once you start moving, it will reroute you even if you make the wrong turn. God will do the same. Don’t be afraid to try things out, even if it means getting it wrong and falling a time or two. Human beings learn through practice, not theory, and it’s often in the process of trying on a few things that don't fit that we ultimately find something that does.
What advice would YOU give to a recent college graduate, or to anyone else trying to navigate their next steps? Share with me in the comments—let’s get a conversation started! 😊