I feel younger than I am, and I am pretty young. I’m just rounding the final lap on my undergraduate degree and, until recently, trying desperately to come up with some sort of plan for my immediate future. Right now, the only thing on the list is “move to Oregon” followed by a large question mark. All I have are vaguely undefined dreams, a non-marketable degree, and a serious case of wanderlust inherited from my parents. So what’s a girl to do?
If you asked me to estimate the amount of people who’ve questioned what my career goals are or offered me unsolicited related advice in the last twelve months, I would say roughly one hundred unique individuals have been adding unnecessary stress into my daily life. So here’s a quick note to all those people: my degree is in French Studies, so no, I really am not interested in working at a bank. I haven’t ruled out grad school yet, so I don’t appreciate your assuming I intend to start my career within the year, and your insistence that I do. I kind of just want to work for a while and figure my life out without the pressures of building anything substantial or being confined to a specific job or field. And the only thing “unrealistic” about my very relaxed future plans is the likelihood that I’ll be taking your advice any time soon. So stop trying to tell me the “right” way to do things, and let me do them my way.
I don’t have it all figured out. Honestly, I really don’t have anything figured out; most of us don’t. That’s what your 20s are for—discovering what you want from life and then going after it. But it’s kind of hard to run before you can walk. Those first few steps are crucial, and it’s difficult to take them when it feels like everyone is yelling at you, telling you that you’re wasting your time taking things slowly. But here’s the beautiful thing: they can’t make those choices for you. You set your own pace, and sometimes you have to demand that everyone else respect that. You may not know what you ultimately want out of life, but you do know that you deserve basic respect and the freedom to figure things out your way, however that may be. So maybe you want to move across the country to a state you’ve never visited, for no other reason than good timing. The years between graduation and the start of your career will likely be the time when you have the greatest mobility, so why not take advantage of that? If you want to travel, do it. If you want to work in a coffee shop instead of jumping right into the financial world, do it. If you think you made a mistake in your choice of degree, wait a while before deciding whether or not you’re right. Get a job waiting tables or running after someone else’s kids, make enough to provide for yourself, and decide later on if you want to go back to school. It’s ok, it’s your life and you’re the only person who gets to live it. If your degree is in politics but what you really want to do is write a screenplay, do it. Do whatever makes you happy, because if you start sacrificing that now, you’ll do it for the rest of your life.
Instead of focusing on long-term goals, decide what you want now. What will make you happiest in the immediate future? I can promise you it won’t be stressing about what your job prospects will look like ten years from now. Ask any one of those people insisting you enter a career path immediately if they’re truly happy with their lives, if waking up each day is still just as exciting as it was when they were 22. There’s more than one way to lead a fulfilling life.
So much about life is out of our control, so focus instead on what is within. When I think about what makes me happiest right now, it’s being with the people I love. It’s spending time discovering new places. It’s having a pet to care for and love. It’s having time to go out for a drink with friends spontaneously or devoting an entire day to getting lost in a new read. It’s living my life for me, on my terms, and not how society has dictated. Sure, one day I want to have a career that I like and am proud of, but I refuse to make it the center of my universe. I refuse to let my career, or even the idea of one, rob me of any potential joy or happiness. I won’t sacrifice daily pleasures for the bigger picture. That’s not something I could ever imagine doing right now, so I’m apt to believe my future self will support that decision. That’s why I am no longer stressed about my future. When people insist that I should be, I shake them off. I decide how to feel about my situation, and being constantly stressed and anxious over a bunch of what-ifs isn’t really to my taste. I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that everything works out as is intended. So maybe I’m undecided as to what I want my future to look like right now, but I’m sure I’ll find it along the way, and you will too. Let’s just all agree to enjoy living now and doing what makes us happy, even if others call us crazy. That’s the only real way to live a life with no regrets.
It can be daunting, overwhelming even, to consider the future. It’s impossible to make decisions for a future you when you can’t anticipate what that version of you will want. So stop trying, and do your best to fully live now. You’ll figure it out eventually. I mean, after all, that’s what your 30s are for, right?