Last Friday, April Garrett looked at her daughter, Arielle Laub (senior), and said to her, “It’s okay if you need to take a year off after graduation.” Laub, an English and Comparative Literary Studies major, responded by choking on her iced tea and hyperventilating.
This may be a dramatized version of the lunch I recently had with my mom, but it is not far from the truth. When she told me, supportively and lovingly, that it was okay if I need a breather after college, I did not respond with relief or appreciation. Instead, I thought to myself, “What, you think I can’t do this? You think I can’t jump right into being a functioning professional who owns a pencil skirt and pays bills? I am a grown woman!”
I respond equally indignantly when someone asks me what my job and career aspects are after graduation. (“I don’t know –– I think I’m just going to adopt a dog and drive around the country volunteering at organic farms.”) If anyone dares ask what my post-college plans are, I immediately resent them and force myself to reiterate one of the 300 possible options at the top of my list at the given time.
Some students already have post-graduation jobs lined up while others are being accepted into graduate schools. Those of us with humanities degrees applaud our peers, while simultaneously wishing we had been left-brained enough to major in economics or chemistry or even gone to school for marketing so that we could actually find job prospects on LinkedIn. But alas, LinkedIn keeps telling me to apply for a job at a Chinese news media company.
At the end of four years in college, I feel completely overwhelmed by the plethora of options the world holds. It has led me to question everything from what my lipstick color says about me to whether I picked the right major (Is it too late to go back and choose botany?). The stories in the media do little to reassure seniors about impending reality. We hear tales of geniuses who dropped out of college to begin revolutionary start-ups, made undergraduate scientific breakthroughs, sold all of their worldly possessions to climb the Seven Summits or found yoga schools in underprivileged communities. We hear the extreme stories – the black and the white but never, ever the grey. The fact of the matter is – what happens to 99 percent of people immediately after graduation would never make it to the cover of a newspaper or into a movie because it would be mind-numbingly dull.
I have always put pressure on myself to be the extreme, the pinnacle. In sixth grade, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “The first female president of the United States.” In ninth grade, I thought I was going to be a war zone reporter. Whatever my career trajectory, I believed it would begin immediately after college.
What I am realizing, however, is that few people have one career in their lifetime. My dad, a criminal defense attorney for three decades, once paid the bills by putting the lids on sodas in a bottling plant. And while I think the soda-bottling industry has replaced his job with a robot, I still in some way want to follow in his footsteps. Instead of thinking of the choice I make for post-grad as the summation of who I am and what I will do, I am trying to think of it as one small plot point in the long story that will be my life.
I still have no solid answer for those who ask me what I am going to do when I graduate. But even as the anxiety swells when I hear the words, “What are your plans?,” I remind myself that the point is not to do something remarkable – the point is to do something. In constantly choosing to move forward, we will find the many things that fulfill us. And while most of those things will not make it onto front page headlines, they will make for rich lives.