Back to (thinking about) the future

October 3rd, 2013

At about 11:42 p.m. (give or take a few minutes) on Monday, Sept. 23, I had my first senior year breakdown of the semester. I’m sure that many of my fellow members of the class of 2014 know what I’m talking about. That moment when you realize how grossly underprepared you are for the real world. That terrifying instant when it all of a sudden hits you that the adult world is less than a year away and you have no idea how to be a part of it.

I am so insanely jealous of those people who have it figured out (aka pretty much everyone in the Boler School, mad props to you guys). I’m jealous of those people who can make a five-year plan and stick to it (yeah, even you, Joseph Stalin). I’m jealous of the people who are so motivated that they’ve taken the GRE or the GMAT or the LSAT or the MFAT at least five times already (although I’m not jealous of them having to take any one of those tests). I envy those people who have known what they wanted to be when they grew up since they were 13 years old and they made that dream come true for themselves. Meanwhile, I’m over here all of a sudden realizing that I’m grossly underprepared for the future that is quickly approaching.

I know there are people who have it all figured out, but I also know there are a fair amount of you who are in the same boat as I am, a boat that seems to be drifting aimlessly into the adult world with no real direction or sense of purpose and virtually no wind in its sails. So I’m here to remind us (myself included) that that is okay.

There is so much pressure these days to make seemingly split decisions about our lives. We go to high school for four years to prepare us to go to college and we go to college for four years to help us prepare for the rest of our lives. And, within those four to eight years, we are supposed to decide, essentially, what we want to do with the rest of our lives. And that can be exceptionally intimidating. When I was 18, I couldn’t decide whether I preferred PB&J sandwiches to turkey sandwiches, let alone decide what kind of career I wanted to have for the rest of my life.

It’s as though we are in a bit of a Catch-22. It seems unfair to ask us to make major decisions about our lives at such a (relatively) young age, and yet, at the same time, when are we going to make them, if not now? So it’s stressful. And it doesn’t help much that people are constantly asking us what we plan to do when we graduate. At one point, I started making things up based on what I thought people might want to hear, when deep down inside I was tempted to quote Daria (from the MTV series of the same name) and tell them, “My goal is not to wake up at 40 with the bitter realization that I’ve wasted my life in a job I hate because I was forced to decide on a career in my teens.”

Maybe it’s a bit unfair of me to assume that job-possessing adults aren’t going to understand if I tell them genuinely that I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. That I have a few options, but I don’t know which path I prefer to wander down. I think perhaps I’ve only been honest with my parents, and with a few professors who I know might help steer me in any practical direction. But even when telling them the truth, I have only ever gotten one answer that was exactly what I needed to hear.

Upon returning to Carroll from a semester abroad in Ireland, I went to visit one of my favorite professors in the English department. He inquired as to what I intended to do after I obtained my diploma and I said, “I really don’t know.” His response, “Okay. That’s cool.” Now, I don’t expect everyone to have this type of response, and frankly, I guess it’s a good thing that everyone doesn’t have this type of response, because sometimes you need someone to offer you some advice, maybe give you a little direction. But there are times when it is nice to be reminded that it is okay to not know what we’re doing with our lives. It’s okay to not have a clue what the future holds. It’s okay to use these four years to figure it out, even if you’re still figuring it out as these four years draw to a close. People need to remind us of that more often.

Deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life is a big decision and the last thing you want to do is make the wrong one. The last thing you want is for that Daria quote to become your actual life. The last thing you want is to realize that you are unhappy because you made a split decision about your future. So if you’re feeling pressured, don’t worry about it, because another thing to worry about is probably the last thing you need.