Dear college graduates: it's OK not to know
As a Creative Arts major, the final requirement for my degree was to create a capstone project over the course of my last semester, along with the other art majors in my graduating class. I noticed a running theme amongst most of the students’ work, including my own. It seemed that whenever we tried to plan out exactly how our projects were going to look, it backfired. Our original proposals were organized, logical plans for executing these carefully crafted ideas, but when it came to actually following them, something just wasn’t right. We came to find that our projects didn’t fit into a neat little box. It took some time, but eventually we learned that it was okay to scrap our original plans and do what felt right, despite what we said in our outline at the beginning of the semester. Paint something because it was close to our hearts. Choose a monologue because we felt a connection to it.
I had no idea at the time, but that experience was an apt metaphor for the next year of my life. What a year it was: a thoroughly emotional, confusing, devastating, wonderful, enlightening, insane year. A hard year. College me had no idea what that year would turn out looking like. And although I do sometimes miss the cozy, blissfully ignorant cocoon that is collegiate life, I am grateful for that year and the things that it taught me. Don’t get me wrong, the future is still a terrifying abyss of darkness. But now, I’ve gone through some stuff that makes me weirdly okay with the abyss. In fact, the abyss is growing on me.
I think that the most important thing I’ve come to realize is that it’s ok to not know. After graduation, I spent a lot of time feeling like the dumb art major friend because I didn’t have a plan; I didn’t know what I wanted or what steps to take next. My vague ramblings in response to the “what are you doing now?” question seemed to translate as lazy or unmotivated. When in reality, I had all these gigantic ideas and ambitions, just no idea how to execute any of them. But you know what? It is more than okay to not know what you’re doing. It’s okay to be a mess. It’s okay to take a year off or work random jobs or apply to grad school because you don’t know what else to do. It’s okay. You’re not any less of a person because you don’t know. You’re allowed to take the time to figure yourself out, no matter how messy it may be.
Just as it was with my capstone project, it seemed that every time I sketched out a plan for post-grad life, it fell apart. The ideas I had as an undergrad weren’t panning out. The plans I was manically trying to make to replace them didn’t quite hold up either. I found that once I let go of this notion of a plan I had to stick to, or specific goals I had to achieve in a given period of time, I was just happier. And things actually started falling into place.
To my fellow graduates who had a solid plan pre-graduation and followed through on it: more power to you. Honestly. I am baffled by you and in awe of you, and quite frankly a little terrified of you. If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, you guys are the ones surviving. For real.
I’m two years out now, and I’m glad to report that my second year was filled with much more certainty than my the first. I moved to a new city. I have a good job, an apartment, a little permanence. There’s a sense of stability in my life now that I craved so badly during that first year. But despite the fact that I am slowly but surely making my way through the post-graduate abyss, I still come up short when asked about certain things. After all, I’m only 23. I still don’t know how I’m going to get my career where I want it to be or what city I want to end up in or who I want to marry (or if I want to get married). But after going through all that I did in that first year out, there are a few things I know for sure.
I know how I want to feel. I want to feel like I did when I left my babysitting job and the family I worked for teared up telling me how valuable I was to them. I want to feel like I did when my cast and I took our final bows after a regional production I was a part of, my heart swelling because I felt so connected to this group of people. I want to feel like I did after I published articles about my anxiety and received so many kind words from people telling me that I had inspired them in some way.
I know that I want to keep finding what I was put on this Earth to do and do it until I can’t anymore. I know that I want to live my life for all of the incredible young people whose lives ended tragically and far too early, especially those that I knew personally. People who had so much more to do in this world. I know that I owe it to them to make the most of my time here.
There’s so much pressure on graduates to sketch out their entire lives; an impossible task due to the fact that life is constantly in flux. Careers change. People change. Minds change. But I think that if we live our lives in pursuit of the things that make us feel the most like ourselves, we’ll eventually end up where we’re supposed to be.