What happens after graduation? People often either take time off and go traveling to see the world. Others might continue with more school, take on an internship, or land a new job. Some simply go into shut-down mode and hide in their parents’ basement. Before you reach the conclusion that there’s only one right path, no choice is necessarily the wrong move. Ultimately, we do what is best for the pace we go at.
Currently, we are the most over-educated and underpaid generation. I graduated from college two years ago. Looking back, it still feels just like yesterday. But I’m not going to be the type of person to romanticize it and say that I miss it. Because I don’t. There were so many torturous nights I experienced asking myself what I was doing. And I still ask myself that question today. But the difference between the person I was two years ago and the person I am today exists in the manner of which I am prepared to live with the consequence of each conscious choice I make.
When you’re in your 20’s, it’s so easy to rely on your youth to make up excuses for yourself, believing that none of your actions have to be justified. The people you hurt —the plans you bail out on —the things you choose not to be honest about —all of those decisions will eventually catch up to you. And then you ask yourself why you’re nowhere close to having the stability you crave for. I ask that, before you take the next leap, look behind you and all of the fires you still have yet to put out.
I used to be a person driven by fear —paralyzed by it, too. And I hated myself for it. But luckily, I broke out of that terrible spell when I watched my own grandmother collapse on the sidewalk in Hong Kong and realized I wasn’t living the way I wanted to enough. She passed away last summer. Death waits for no one, and people change at their own accord. You can’t ever reverse the damage; you can only count on the present.
When people place expectations on you, it’s inevitable that you will fail them. Failure is a large part of life. Once we can get past that, it’s not a big deal. When I first started out as a cocktail server as a sophomore in college, I felt massive relief when I spilled red wine all over a man’s khaki pants. The good news is that he didn’t kill me. He wasn’t even mad at me. Instead, he was actually a decent person and let it go.
Sometimes, it’s not always that pretty, but in life, the stains we get from red wine is unavoidable. Things get tipsy and rocky all the time. That’s just the way it goes. So, if you’re trying to live your life according to someone else’s standards, I urge you to ask yourself why you’re spilling someone else’s wine and not your own. Wine is expensive. And so is the time you can’t get back.
It’s hard to say where our true potential lies these days, but that doesn’t mean it was never there to begin with. We are the generation most laughed at and looked down upon because instant gratification is our middle name. We’re always one click away from getting answers on Google, one swipe away from meeting a love potential, and one friend request away from expanding our social network. Our world has become limitless and conveniently accessible.
Today, we have jobs that didn’t exist when our parents were young. They had to grow up fast because they had no choice and were thrown into their own generational difficulties just to provide for us. It’s so easy to take those things for granted, especially when things get lost in translation from the arguments, the misunderstandings, and the stress on both ends of figuring out where we’re both headed in our lives intertwined. In the process, we forget to humanize ourselves and each other.
It’s such a loaded question when someone asks you who you are and what you want to do in life. Maybe instead of asking what your future plan is, we should ask ourselves what we are afraid of. Everything stems back to our childhood from the moment we were conditioned how to handle and react to life.
I’m afraid of dying and what comes after. Afraid of people not caring enough. Of being reduced to regulations and systematic conventions. I’m afraid of waking up one day when I’m old, realizing that I didn’t make it to self-actualization. I’m so used to pondering over the big picture, because it’s the one thing that has kept me going when I think I’ve reached the lowest of my low. When you’re sitting in a well by yourself, all you can really do is stare up at the night sky and let the stars keep your sanity intact. But fear isn’t the end of something —it is only the beginning. Once we acknowledge this, it gets easier admitting what we actually want out of this life.
For some people, they already know what their passions are early in life and go after them wholeheartedly. For others, it kicks in like late puberty further down the road. The thing is, we need to stop comparing ourselves to others, thinking the grass is always greener on the other side. It’s not a race. Your best friend is getting married. That’s amazing. Your other friend just landed her dream job. Whoo! And you? Wherever you are right now, be thankful that you’re still alive and take life one step at a time. Trust that the universe will work in your favor, but don’t waste your time waiting for all the signs to fall in your lap. There’s a difference between living your life passively versus not having everything figured out, but still working on yourself.
The other night, I sat outside with my group of friends on one of their backyard porches. We sipped chamomile tea and talked about where we wanted to live in the future. It was so much better than going out to a raunchy bar drinking our brain cells away, because at least the silence was pure enough to let honest conversations flow. I watched the way her father played with their dogs and it all felt so simple and right. I wondered what life was like for him when he was our age, and I imagined it was probably just as turbulent, so seeing him in such a calm natural state gave me hope that that’s where I’ll end up one day, too.
School is a common place to learn about a topic you’re passionate about. But, it’s not everything and nor should it be. Life teaches you best when you fail your hardest. Failure teaches you resilience. And you can’t grow with perfect scores and smooth roads. That’s a terrible illusion. People should go into school with the mindset that it’s a place where they know they have to be to make their life goals come true. But that it’s all merely theoretical, and real experiences outside will do the ultimate testing.
You don’t know what you get yourself into until you’re actually doing it. It’s daunting because you’re probably sitting there, asking yourself if going through all those steps and years of schooling and pulling all-nighters was worth it. You may find you don’t ultimately want a job in what you studied for. The truth most people don’t like to admit is that it happens a lot more often than you think it does. It’s okay to say goodbye, take a break, and do something completely different and off the beaten track. Straying from your normal path in pursuit of what eventually feels right is a motion that normally occurs more than once. People often think that they have to choose a passion in life, but the passion actually chooses you instead.
The next question people often ask and have a difficult time balancing is finding ground between following their passion and aiming towards practicality that will pay the bills. It’s hard to say, especially coming from someone who doesn’t have all the resources herself. Right now, I’m actually in a position where I’m putting my dreams on hold. I came to an important conclusion just recently that I have to most likely work multiple odd jobs to save up until I can eventually go back to school to do the one thing I’m in serious pursuit of. Once I finally admitted to myself what I want, I felt better about things, no matter how uncertain or daunting the next few years look ahead, because at least I know now that I’m one step closer to knowing who I am.
Coming from my own experiences, it’s a lot better to face more struggles going after what you like instead of becoming addicted to making money with no actual self-growth. People think there’s an expiration date as to when you can and can no longer pursue more schooling, but that actually all depends on your own willpower. It’s never too late. The thing is, is everyone wants the ultimate dream life, but no one is actually willing to go through the pain, rejection, and uncertainties along the way. Again, we live in the age of instant gratification where we expect things to just happen. It’s dangerous to have that mindset because only stagnation and mud will be created.
I think as long as we stop putting up a front and realize that we’re all struggling in some ways to get to the one place we want to be, and help each other out instead of seeing others as mere competitors, people would feel better about voicing their concerns for the future. We’re all aiming towards it, so why all the secrecy of the pain we’re repressing? It’s okay to mess up and be stuck in limbo. And it’s okay to be the worst versions of ourselves. It’s all a part of the journey, so why rob yourself of every single opportunity to be your rawest, most authentic self? We live in a culture that’s polished behind Instagram filters, spell check, and Photoshop. It’s hard to find your real self when you’re constantly putting on a one-person performance for the world to appreciate. It can be suffocating.
It’s hard to be motivated about anything in life when you have no idea who you are, so don’t beat yourself up if you have no aspirations. It doesn’t make you any less of a person. There were definitely days that I didn’t think I could ever pick myself up again. I felt frightened and only wanted to shut the rest of the world out even more. Things seemed so meaningless then. The only way I got better was by picking one thing I cared about and completely immersing myself in it. Even if it started out as an innocent hobby. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to make things finally click.
I hope you have the guts to be the person you were meant to be. I hope no matter how rough the ride gets down the road that you won’t see conflict as an end. But rather as a test to show your true strengths. And I hope that you find someone —whether it’s your family, a friend, coworker, or a lover whom you can go to that you can share both your failures and successes together. It’s imperative to trust that who you are is enough to take you on the journey you were meant to take- which is within yourself. Good luck.
Schwarzenegger, K. (2014). I Just Graduated…Now What? Honest Answers From Those Who Have Been There. NY: Crown Publishing Group.
Edited by Viveca Shearin