Most of my friends have now graduated college. As they emerge, one by one, into the harsh light of what most people like to call the “real world,” more than a few have turned to those of us who came before, a half formed question on their lips: “So what to I do now?”
It’s been more than a year and a half since I was in college, which is scary in itself, but I think it’s worse because it’s already been so long and I still have no idea what I am supposed to be doing.
What do you do after university, when up until then you’ve lead a structured existence? I started kindergarten at the normal time, progressing into the next grade with every one of my late-August birthdays (It took me until second grade to understand things were not planned this way on purpose.) I spent every year from age five to twenty-two deeply immersed in our education system. Learning was my purpose. It was a fact of life.
I loved my education. I love learning, and I hope I never forget that there are still plenty of ways to broaden and sharpen my mind. I had the good fortune to be handed an institutionalized schooling, a good brain, and parents who encouraged me to use both. I was taught to think critically. I was taught to be aware of possibilities. I was taught that there are many ways to go through life, and that my education would allow me access to more paths. I was taught that, while there are many careers and roads out there, a college degree would lead me to a better one.
This, we have found out, is not the case.
A lot of us have been told, time and time again, that our degree does not matter. Many jobs ask for a Bachelor’s degree, but also 5 years of work experience in your field, which you haven’t had time to do because you were spending that time getting a Bachelor’s degree. Which you only did, again, because otherwise you can’t get a job in your field. I wish I was joking. I am not.
We spend our lives being helped and guided through a process which promises us a bright future but doesn’t necessarily set us up for the next step. When we apply to jobs, get rejected, and then ask the people who are a part of the system why, we get told we’re too entitled, too lazy. We don’t have enough experience, we don’t know what it’s like to be responsible. Every magazine laments the poor work ethic of the “Millenial” generation. Everywhere we turn we see our peers in jobs they are over qualified for. We spent our spare time on summer jobs in order to pay for the unpaid internships that will set us apart for future employers, we shouldered tens of thousands of dollars in debt, we followed every piece of advice we were given by our “mentors,” and when we start on the path to our future we are ungrateful, that we shouldn’t expect hand-outs.
So what do I say to my friends graduating after me? What comfort or direction can I give to someone who is just as lost as I am? How is this not just the blind leading the blind?
I don’t have an answer. I may be embarking on an exciting new journey, but like so many of my friends before me I can’t help but feel like I am simply running away from the problem. Those of my friends who seem to have their lives put together have been working day and night, heart and soul toward their goal, and some of them haven’t made it.
Some have decided that more education is the answer, since their undergraduate career is seemingly for naught. Some have accepted corporate positions, hoping to climb the ladders already established, betting that their path is simply too well traveled to lead them to a dead end. Some have started out on their own, forming small businesses and chasing their dream. I can’t say that one is any better than the others. They all have their obstacles.
The best advice I have ever been given is the only thing I feel comfortable passing along: Focus on the thing you would do for free, if you were simply allowed to ignore all other factors. Isolate this desire, and do whatever thing you think will start you on that path, no matter how big or how small.
Set yourself that goal, and do whatever it takes. Because you’re the only one who will take you there, and you have the rest of your life to arrive.