By: Adrian Smith
I keep hearing, “What’s next for you?” this semester, “What’re you planning after school?” And all I’ve come up with so far is “Sleep.”
It’s a tough question to answer, especially when it implies job direction—stepping into a career. What are you doing for work? Where are you living this summer? Applying to grad school? Are you traveling?
It’s something you think about, quietly, during the final days of college or university, something you try your best to prepare to answer. You know the question’s coming. You’ve sat down and weighed your options. But the answers don’t need to be so rigid, which I find they become under such pressure.
A simpler way to look at this question, one we rarely consider, is equally important: What about education outside the classroom? Or considering the fact that there are alternatives at all? Staying a part of thoughtful discussion is also beneficial, allowing you and others to express opinions and be corrected, and, as a result, become better informed.
An English teacher I had in high school would always make us do these whacky, energetic class debates over the ideas articulated in Shakespeare’s King Lear. We all laughed at his enthusiasm and made light of the theatrics, but thinking about it now, I realize he was placing an emphasis on continuing discourse. He was making an effort to take part in any conversation that challenges issues and collective attitudes. That lesson may have been more valuable than anything we gained from the text itself.
Learning to read for longer sittings is also useful, if you’re into it. Reading about whatever you want now and not just what’s on the syllabus that week, you could explore topics that may have sat well with you before but never fit your major. I developed an interest in psychology on my way out of school. Specifically, sleep and dream states—how our subconscious affects and differs from waking life, as well as the causes of anxiety.
I’ve wondered: how cool would it be to study a subject specific to your curiosities, at your own pace, now that there’s time, instead of ripping through a PSYCH 100 textbook before the exam? What about experiencing things for yourself? Not just reading about it, or watching documentaries, but actually taking part in the lessons? That would offer perspective you couldn’t gain from lecture halls or from sitting in an office. Going after what you want now, instead of waiting for “the right time” or a “better time” is worth considering.
It’s important to do what you can right away in order to get the ball rolling, when you’ve settled on the idea. That’s the only thing separating important human achievements from a great idea someone else also came up with at home but never got around to. Immediacy. Having a sense of urgency, and never waiting for “the right time.” Taking gradual steps towards bettering your overall health, like changing your eating habits (especially after the diet you kept up in college) or finally seeing your doctor regularly could also be a good step forward.
The same can be said about learning how to prioritize, or getting into the habit of preparing before trying something new. These skills benefit anyone, post-graduate plan or not. There’s just too much to do in one day, and the hours roll by too quickly not to build good qualities. Even something as easy as picking up a new TV series without procrastinator’s guilt becomes a good change of pace.
So is getting back in touch with the people you grew up with. I ran into a friend from elementary school this week on the train. For a long stretch growing up, he was one of the closest friends I had. Being able to hold a natural, 20-year-old version of the conversations we had back then, instead of speaking to each other vaguely as young professionals was extremely comforting; you tend to get used to run in conversations pertaining to your work, your plans, or your future. Also, deciding to make a consistent effort keeping up with the friends you made at school, not allowing the physical distance created by new living or work situations to create isolation among you is something to take very seriously.
It’s easy to lose communication with everyone because you’re “too busy,” especially when you’re not seeing friends as regularly. More than anything though, what comes next is learning how to implement the lessons you took from school, not necessarily the ones from the classroom but the lessons you learned from living with different people and living on your own in a new place—battling stress, anxiety, high work loads and low levels of motivation, into the life you lead after graduating. Using your understanding of how to cope with these issues and distractions in order to continue working and living well. You know you’ll have to find a job eventually so the answer’s inevitable.
Before smiling through a ready-made response when someone asks, “What’s next?” think about what you’d actually like for yourself after graduating, plainly, instead of rambling with scripted professionalism or sounding as if you could use a nap.