I know how nervous you are and how frustrating the never ending questions from relatives are becoming. I know how embarrassed you feel when you can’t answer the “what are you doing after graduation?” question. I know, because it was only one short little year ago that I was in your exact shoes.
And guess what? I survived.
So, dear soon-to-be graduate, I want to share with you something I wrote exactly a year ago today. I can’t promise it will answer any of your questions or solve any of your problems, but it will show you that you are not alone and that despite how it may seem now, you will be ok.
April 10, 2017
Since the age of four we are put on these tracks, these predetermined paths that dictate our every next move. Elementary, middle school, high school, college, job, family, death. One foot in front of the other, how hard could that be to follow?
Pretty damn hard when you reach that big step we like to call “entering the workforce.” The school part was easy, as long as you studied hard and applied yourself, you automatically knew what came after summer vacation. Sure, things were a bit up in the air when it came to the transition from middle to high school, and then again from high school to college, but those were only four year decisions you had to make. Skinny little freshman turned into confident senior only to repeat the process again.
For twenty-two years I’ve been diligently walking the path laid out for me. One step, two step, a well behaved and contributing citizen to this mechanism called society. I devoted myself to my studies during my years of school, all with the end goal of making it into a good college, and once I had finally arrived at the university of my dreams, studying even harder so that I would have the plethora of options we are promised with a diploma. Of course along with college studies came internships and extracurriculars, all to build that perfectly constructed resume that everyone desired.
Now, four years having flown by, I am staring graduation straight in the face. Logically, my next step is to find that perfect job, one to rise through the ranks in, eventually to reach top level executive. Of course I can’t forget to find a husband and start a family along the way. One step, two step, obediently marching through life, right?
So it’s time for me to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life, according to this predetermined path of mine. All my friends are doing it, it’s got to be pretty easy right? Four years ago they chose their majors based on their interests, and now it’s time for their degrees to dictate what direction their next steps will be in. I have a friend going to grad school for Psychology, another to med school, she wants to be a doctor. Another friend just accepted a job offer, she’ll be working for a well known and well established company.
And here I am staring at my degree, Philosophy, double minor in Entrepreneurship and Italian. About as unconventional as I could have chosen. My friends were smarter, they chose degrees with obvious directions attached to them. I chose a degree based off what my gut was telling me. I sure wish someone had told my gut I was supposed to stick to this path I’ve been told to follow.
Did I mention I graduate a month from today? I’m watching as my friends apartment shop, figure out budgets, even plan weddings. They’re taking their next steps along their paths. One step, two step, their excitement is infectious yet infuriating. I’m so proud of them all, I know they will go on to accomplish all those goals we spent late nights scheming. But why are they able to take this next step when the best I can do is stand frozen in fear?
And so it goes, half filled job application after half filled job application, I sit staring at the questions like “how do you see yourself fitting in here long term?” or “what makes you the perfect fit for this company?” because in truth, no matter how hard I try, I can’t picture myself behind the traditional business desk. It’s like some dormant voice inside my head finally decided to speak its mind, counter acting that one step two step preprogrammed rhythm. Granted, the voices of my post-grad friends aren’t helping much in taming this inner rebellion either. Stay in college forever, they say, don't gradate it’s a trap. You can only listen to so many rants about how boring and stagnant the post gradate work life is before you start to seriously fear the future.
Instead of being my third step, the future has felt more like a solid brick wall. One step, two step, bam - face first into a mental blockade. I’ve been running into this wall, over and over again, for almost a year now, like a silly child who thinks the same action can result in a different reaction. One step, two step, bam, guess I’ll try again.
I’m really not sure what finally caused the wall to crumble, but I do remember the moment well. I was stuck staring at another “how to get hired for your dream job” article yet again, wondering how in the world I was going to be able to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. One step, two step, marching through the motions I was looking for the high paying salary and good benefits based in the city that my friends had determined was their third step. One step, two step, and then all of a sudden I had my third step, though really it was more of a full speed hurtle in the opposite direction.
Now I want to be clear, this was not a snap decision, it did not come about by some miraculous lightbulb moment. It had always been there, sitting in the back of my mind just waiting for me to call it forward, shaking its head like a parent watching on with love as their child stumbled learning to walk. Sure it came on like a sudden moment of clarity hitting me straight in the face, but it had always been there.
So. Here I am staring my third step in the face.
What is it you ask?
A one way ticket to Europe with my Italian passport in hand and digital marketing business in my pack.
I knew the moment the idea popped into my head that this was right, it was like my gut screamed at me “finally, I’ve been waiting forever for you figure it out!” I woke up this morning after committing to my crazy decision expecting to be met with nervous doubt and regret, afraid of consequences that were sure to follow such a seemingly rash decision. But instead I was met with excitement, and, dare I say it, happiness. ‘This is right’ my soul hummed.
My entire world seems to be cast in a new and hopeful light now, the sun a little brighter, the days a little sweeter. Plus I do get a kick out of people’s reactions. What are you going to do with a philosophy major? they ask. I’m graduating self employed and a full time traveler I tell them. I get a range of shock to jealously to the classic ‘is she crazy??’ looks, but really I don’t care anymore. I was never one to care about money or convention. And anyway, those few close friends who truly know me just smile and say they couldn’t seeing me doing anything else.
Am I excited? Beyond words. Am I scared? Shitless.
But as my mom said when I told her my plan “If it doesn’t scare the crap out of you, then it’s not worth doing,” and really I can’t agree more. This is going to be a time of hardship and trial and roughing it, late nights and early mornings and missed flights, and above all else the destruction of my comfort zone. So yeah, obviously I am terrified of what lies before me. I’m scared of being alone on the road, I’m scared of failing my work, I’m scared of leaving my friends and family behind.
It really is a terrifying thing to do, stare what feels like the end to your normal, simple life head on. But then again I guess I always knew it was coming.
So it’s time, I can feel it down to the bones.
It’s time for me to continue on, following that ferocious pull yanking my gut towards places unseen and people unknown. One step, two step, all the way to the edge of that graduation stage I’ll march, all the way to the end of that very last bit of predetermined track that has been laid out for me. One foot in the front of the other, I will walk that stage in front of family, friends, and thousands of strangers, straight to the edge of certainty. I’m sure to the onlookers it will seem insignificant, just another graduate walking across the stage.
Will any of them see that that on that stage, my predetermined track, my security and certainty of the future, will end? One foot in front of the other, all the way to that diploma and outstretched hand, and then nothing.
Because that is where my track will end. Right there, in front of thousands of people, my track will end and my life will begin.
On that stage I will take my first steps of freedom.
Alright, so I know that the direction I chose to go after graduation is not for everyone, but I didn’t share this with you in the attempt to convince you to follow in my footsteps. In fact, my objective was the exact opposite.
I wanted to share with you the thoughts (however dramatic they may be) of Olivia a year ago today because I want you to know that it is possible to define your life how you want to live it, and to encourage you to bravely do so.
I’m not superhuman, I’m just another Baylor Bear who decided to follow her dreams a year ago. And if I can do it, you, by all means, are more than capable.
You have the brains, you have the skills, you are more than enough.
So, dear soon-to-be college graduate without a job offer,
Because a year from now that fact will not matter in the least bit, I promise. All that will matter is what you decided to do for your next step in life. And never forget you have the power to define this step, the power to create a beautiful life in the pursuit of what makes you feel alive.