I was never one of those kids who always knew what she wanted to do in life. I spent way too much time pretending that I was a mermaid, and the first profession I ever considered seriously was “Female Indiana Jones.” Anyone reading this article is probably laughing, but the joke is on you all, because I was actually an anthropology major for almost two years! (Okay, maybe the joke is still on me.) It wasn’t until towards the end of my sophomore year of college that I realized my ability to string coherent sentences together was actually a major of its own.
So after finally finding my “calling” in English and writing, I did what any good student would do and worked my butt off. I read all ten thousand lines of poetry in Milton’s Paradise Lost. I pretended to understand Marx in my Literary Theory class, because my teacher was scary and asking a question seemed akin to voluntarily picking a fight with an angry PTA mom. I wrote more analytical essays on plays, novels, and poems than I care to remember. Hell, I even wrote an honors thesis. But never once during this Lord of the Rings-esque quest for a Bachelor’s Degree did I sincerely consider what career I wanted to pursue—what career would make me (dare I say it?) happy. And as I sit here on my parents’ couch, a college graduate for almost a whole month, I can’t get the dreaded question out of my mind, the one that my friends, parents, grandparents, teachers, dogs, and mailman have all been asking me for the past few months: What’s next?
If “what’s next” means “what are you literally going to do in the next few minutes,” then I absolutely know the answer: I am going to stare at my LinkedIn profile and eventually start sobbing over how totally inadequate I seem. After this crying session, I’ll dance to “Africa” by Toto in my living room while my dogs bark at me because they are probably (and rightfully) horrified.
But I know that the “what’s next” is referring to my future, which, at this moment, could turn out to be as disappointing as people who think fruit is dessert. I (gasp) didn’t apply to graduate school like so many of my peers. And I also (gasp) do not have a job yet. I’m 22 years old—do I really have to have it all figured out? The defiant voice in my head screams a resounding, NO! But then I remember that Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar at my age.
Maybe I’m just bitter because I thought that I’d be famous by now. I’m pretty sure every kid who grew up in my generation thought this, as well. I’d like to completely blame reality television shows, but I’m sure there are other factors at play here. Wasn’t I supposed to have written a novel by now? Or recorded a ukulele EP that simultaneously rocketed me to celebrity status and landed me a starring role in a Wes Anderson movie opposite Bill Murray? I am angry at myself for not having a master plan, but I’m more angry that I’m expected to have a master plan.
I’m going to let you all in on a theory I have about recent college graduates: none of us know what the hell we’re doing. We are all the first grade kid who has peed her pants at recess and has no clue how to remedy the situation. Because guess what? Life is changing for all of us, and fast. In fact, as I type this sentence, I’m sure that someone I know probably just got engaged.
It’s hard to admit this, but I am downright scared. I’m scared that my credentials are no longer going to be based on how many ping-pong balls I can throw into a cup of beer, because I’m actually quite good at that. I’m scared that even though I have a degree and believe that I am an intelligent person, I still don’t feel qualified to do anything in the current workforce. I’m scared that the best advice my generation will pass on to the next is “turn down for what?” (I realize this is most likely a problem for a different article.) School is all I’ve ever known. It’s all most of my friends have ever known. But the “adult” life is beckoning us all. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to hide in my room for the next few years and wait for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. Sure, it’ll be rough, but at least I won’t have to write any more cover letters.
But if I’ve learned anything so far in life, it’s that even if you do have that master plan, nothing ever happens exactly how you think it will. And that “master” plan is going to change constantly as your dreams evolve in ways you never even imagined. I wish more teachers, parents, role models, etc. would tell us this one simple truth: It’s okay to be confused. Because those nights where everything seems like a total mess actually teach us a couple of things. They teach us that the song “Africa” is one of the greatest things to ever come out of the ’80s. They teach us that wine, while amazing, does not actually make us better dancers. But more than this, they teach us resilience. We learn that we are all much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. And with that knowledge, the future becomes slightly less terrifying.
So. What’s next? Am I going to spend my days in my parents’ basement eating synthetic cheese and binge-watching Arrested Development? No. Even though that sounds kind of awesome. But I also don’t know what career I want for the rest of my life, either. Call me crazy, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Maybe I’ll teach English in Korea. Maybe I will write that novel. Maybe my amateur ghost-hunting skills will finally be recognized. Why not? The most liberating thing about graduating with absolutely no idea what I want to do is the fact that there isn’t anything I can’t do. Okay, I concede that there is actually a fairly long list of things that I’m incapable of doing (like math), but for the sake of this article, just go with it.
Be confused. Be afraid. These are unavoidable emotions whenever changes happen in life, but remember your strength, as well. You may not have an Oscar (or even a job) yet, but you have something to offer this world. And I hope you all have an amazing time figuring out what that is.
Caitlin Caviness is a writer, cat enthusiast, amateur ghost-hunter, and Jack Kerouac fanatic. In 2003, she successfully brought back the phrase “all that and a bag of chips.” At any given time she is either scouring used bookstores for books that she has absolutely no room for, or challenging strangers to Lord of the Rings trivia games.