It may have been the recent email I received reminding me to apply to graduate this spring, or perhaps it’s just all of the general uncertainty about the future floating in the air these days. But to put it simply: I have been freaking out about what my plan is for life after university.
I know I’m not alone in being unsure about what I want to do with my life. The awkward silence that follows family members asking you where you’ll be this time next year is as much a part of the university experience as O-Week, but it’s nowhere near as fun. I'd always treated this uncertainty with levity—I have all the time in the world to figure that out! But suddenly, I don’t.
Job prospects and postgrad education options both seem overwhelmingly broad and frighteningly scarce.
Both are also confusing. Should I apply for an internship? Should I write the LSAT? Do I have a good enough resumé? The questions surrounding each potential option are just as stressful as the question of what I even want to do—the answer to which, for many of us, is not as straightforward as we may have thought.
I have a friend who has wanted to be a doctor ever since we met in grade nine. Everything she did in both high school and her undergrad was tailored to her ultimate goal of attending medical school. This year, after completing just three years of her undergrad, she’s in her first year of medical school at age 20. I always envied her certainty in her desired career path. Compared to her methodical and purposeful approach to education, I was Jackson Pollock.
I’ve always been the type to take the courses that sound good in the moment. History of Rock n’ Roll, Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, Human Sexuality? Sign me up! But now, I wonder if I should have been more like my friend and been more intentional in my approach to school. Maybe if I had just picked something long ago, I wouldn't feel as scared to face the future. But I am where I am, and I know that there are many other people in my position, facing impending graduation and actual adulthood.
I can’t tell you what to do with your life any more than I can decide what to do with mine, but I can offer you some of the advice that’s been given to me.
First: the job you get right after graduation is by no means a life commitment to a certain industry. Ask almost any adult, and you’ll find that they’re on their second, third, or fourth career path. Any job is an opportunity to gain experience, make connections, and stay above water financially. Even if you try one area and end up hating it, you’ve still learned something about yourself. Now you can narrow down your list of potential career paths by crossing off the things you definitely don’t want to do.
Second: you don’t necessarily need to go straight into your next degree after you graduate from this one. If you’re planning on going back to school but are feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of finances and applications, or if you’re not completely sure about going back, there’s no shame in taking a year or two or 10 to figure out what you really want to do. That way, you can prepare yourself mentally and financially.
The biggest factor behind my graduation anxiety is the feeling that I need to have everything figured out right now.
It makes sense: humans don’t generally like uncertainty, and we’ve already had more than we can handle in 2020. But I'm beginning to realize that the uncertainty can be liberating. If I’m not sure what I want to do for my career, my options are open to experiment with different jobs, companies, and degrees.
If you’re getting ready to graduate and are feeling nervous about what comes next, know that you’re not alone. Almost everyone—even the people who already know what their next move is—feel some degree of anxiety towards the uncertainty of the future. Whatever you choose, know that it doesn’t need to be permanent. The journey of exploring different paths while you get to know yourself better is one of the best parts of life, and we’re young and still have a lot of exploring to do. You’ve got this!