Graduates: It’s OK if You Don’t Know Your Next Steps

"What are your plans for the future?" Class of 2019, it's absolutely alright if your response is still in draft form.

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To all future graduates, you DO NOT need to know what you are doing. I bet you, like me, are getting tired of the constant stream of questions about your plans for the future. In high school, I was put under the impression I needed to know what I was doing with my life when I left for college. What no one tells you is that you can get to your senior year of college and still not know what you are doing.

I started my freshman year at Marquette as a pre-med major. One tough and failed Chemistry class later, I decided that was not the path for me. My answer came from a random Criminology elective I took for credit; my first class, I knew I was hooked. Then, I debated if I could get a job in the field without being a cop. From there, I looked for new experiences and started a student worker position at a local government law office. That position taught me I want to work with victims of crime in my future career. It made me realize that on the other end of the terrible things we see on TV, there are people who suffer with the aftermath.

For the last couple months, I have been dreading trying to figure out what I am doing with my career and if I am making the right choice. I am a planner and for anyone who can relate — the unknown is scary. I only recently decided I am going to take a gap year. And hear this from me, those are okay too! I thought for a while it would put me behind everyone else who is moving straight forward to graduate school or those who are getting offers from their “dream jobs.”

However, there are middle-aged adults who go back to grad school later in life. Ultimately, I know I need to take a year to regroup, work to pay off some loans, and just spend some time on myself. Yet, most of the times I’ve mentioned this, I’m usually met with “Well, what are you doing next?” It seems we are taught to always know the next move and if we don’t have an answer, we should really figure it out. I’ve been trying to better myself at taking life one step at a time. While having long-term goals is great, there are many small steps to get there, and those small steps won’t happen with planning and being anxious about the leaps and bounds.

Here are a few other tips given to me that are helping me through this transition period:

  1. This is a great time in life to explore and find out what you like to do. Those things you enjoy could possibly turn into a job somewhere along the way.
  2. Look for opportunities in things you enjoy no matter the amount of money or if it’s what you want to do in your future. One of my best friends was inspired to do a mission year starting this fall, though she is also unsure where her future lies.
  3. Breathe!!!  I tend to become anxious when I am trying to plan 5 steps ahead, instead of focusing on the now and the next immediate step.
  4. Do not compare your life to others! No one else is under the same circumstances. It’s easy to start comparing yourself when you see people going to a new grad/doctorate school or moving to a completely new city. Do what is best for you and you only!
  5. Reflect! Reflect on the experiences of your college life and your upcoming years, no matter where you go or what you do. These reflections can help lead you to the next step along the path.

I hope this helps some of you out there who are in the same boat as me. Just know you are going to do great things in your own time! So next time someone asks, “What are you doing with your life?” the response can confidently be, “It’s a work in progress.” 

Originally published on the Active Minds Blog.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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