FOR THE UNIVERSITY GRADUATE WHO FEELS UNCLEAR ABOUT WHAT TO DO NEXT
If you want a visual of “lack of clarity” I’ll show you my university graduation photo. It was June 2018 and I had just completed my four-year biology undergrad. I felt so relieved to have finally gotten my degree but at the same time so lost because I had no idea what I wanted to do with it (if anything). Up until that point I pretty much had a blueprint guiding my life…I was born, my parents raised me, I went to elementary school, then to high school, and then onto university. I never really had to think too much about what I was going to do next, I just went onto the next “logical” step in life.
During my time in university the most common unsettling question I constantly got asked was “So what are you planning to do after you graduate?!”, a question I’m sure many university students can relate to. This question used to terrify me. Why? Because I really did not have an honest genuine answer, I had no idea what I was going to do after. Sometimes people would answer the question for me and say something like “I assume you’re applying for med school” or “You must be working on a thesis for your masters.” I typically would reply with something like “Yeah I’m thinking about med school!” or “Oh maybe research!” Okay, let’s be honest here… I never really desired to become a doctor and I definitely did not enjoy course labs so why on earth would I go to med school or take on a job as a researcher? I probably wouldn’t. I gave these types of answers because it generated a more positive reaction from people. If I replied with something like “ I have no idea what I’m going to do!” people would give me a puzzled look and I started feeling silly for going through this degree having no real plan or end goal for it. It seemed like everyone in my class had goals, they had a plan for after graduation and there I was just completely clueless as to what I should do next.
As I was completing my degree I considered my next “logical” step. Do I find a career in my field? Do I go back to school? Should I just keep working my part-time job as a server? Sadly I felt zero excitement for any of these things. I knew that if I took a more traditional path I would be left feeling so unfulfilled. It’s not to say that any of these options wouldn't be great for someone else, they just felt totally out of alignment for me. It’s almost as if I was waiting for a balloon to fall from the sky with a note attached to it reading “Your next life step is…” I desperately just wanted to find some clarity and figure out what the heck I was supposed to be doing in this thing called life. I used to think I was the only person who felt this way but I now realize this feeling isn’t so uncommon. There seems to be this pressure to have all the things figured out right away. Whether it’s internal pressure from yourself or external pressure from society, friends, family, etc. Whatever it may be for you, we’ve all probably felt this sense of pressure at one point or another. The problem with this pressure is that we start making decisions about our lives based on the things we think we “should” do but not actually what we “want” to do. This ends up leading us to live a life that doesn’t truly fulfill us.
I decided that instead of trying to figure everything out right then and there with my degree I would take a year off and pursue something that I was truly passionate about- traveling. I booked a one-way ticket to South East Asia with the intent of doing some solo backpacking until my bank account was practically depleted. What?! Asia?! Alone?! Is she serious?! Yup, I was 100% serious and honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had been so excited for something. A lot of my close friends and family were supportive but it wasn’t always easy trying to explain my decision. Understandably people were worried, there was skepticism and sometimes I felt judgment but deep down I knew that this was the right decision for me at the time. There were a lot of things that I was unsure about but this solo backpacking trip was something I was sure of.
I didn’t have much of a plan for this trip but I was giving myself the opportunity to just be free. I ended up traveling for a little over 6 months, visiting 6 different countries, experiencing such new cultures, and meeting so many different people. I could go on and on about all the ways in which the experience impacted me but for the purpose of this blog post, I think what’s important is that I gave myself space and time to take a step back. I did something that felt right for me, regardless of what other people thought. Was I able to figure everything out in those 6 months? Definitely not. But what I was able to do was let go of the stressful pressures and expectations that I felt hanging over me. It was an opportunity for me to learn, grow, and become more connected to myself. I discovered things that truly make me happy and the things that I need to let go of. I gained a little more clarity about what kind of career I want to pursue and I thought about the kind of life that would actually make me feel fulfilled. This experience was exactly what I needed at that point in my life
I can’t help but think back to my university days and wonder where I’d be now had I pursued something totally out of alignment for me. Trust me when I say that I know what that lack of clarity feels like and how stressful it can be. If you’re anything like me then you probably desire to have things planned out, some sort of certainty for the future to know that you’re on the right path. I know it’s scary to have no concrete plan and do not know where you’ll be in a year from now, but it’s even scarier to start living a life that doesn’t even feel like your own anymore. It’s empowering when you start actually taking control of your life and creating something that is truly aligned for you. From my own experience, I found that it was so beneficial to take a step back and gain new perspectives. It doesn’t need to be traveling across the world but I encourage people to explore different interests, expose yourself to new environments, meet different people, learn new things, discover what makes you happy. What I've realized is that clarity doesn't come from desperately trying to look for it; it comes naturally through life’s experiences. Sometimes all you need is just the space and time to allow these things to happen.
I know everyone’s journey is different but I like to share my experience in hopes that it resonates with someone. So if you’re approaching graduation and feel a little unclear about what to do next, here are a few things I want to remind you of:
- This feeling is completely normal so don’t criticize or judge yourself for it.
- Try to let go of the things you think you “should” do but have no real desire for.
- You might have to try a lot of different things until something feels “right”.
- It’s totally okay to change directions in life, career choices don't have to be definitive.
- There is no official “timeline” of when you need to do something by, go at your own speed.
And lastly but probably most importantly: always remember that this is your life to live so have the courage to do what feels right for YOU- regardless of what that may look like to others. You won’t have all the answers right now but stay true to yourself and believe that eventually, things will work themselves out like they’re supposed to.
Written by: Kayla Gomes