We’ve been prepped for extraordinary lives.
Your commencement speaker told you anything was possible. So did your advisor, over coffee in your last few weeks of your undergraduate career. Great things are ahead, they said.
So after college, you move. You pick a new city. You settle into your first apartment. New place, new roommates. Find a new relationship. A new job. It sinks in: This is your life now. Your new, real life.
It’s supposed to be magical. It’s everything you’ve been working for. It falls short and just seems ordinary. Basic, even.
The years following college graduation are anticlimactic. We’ve put so much emphasis on the theoretical future, that we’re lost when it comes to the practical application. We’ve been training, like athletes looking ahead to the Olympics. We have our eyes on gold. A golden job opportunity, or finally being reunited with our significant other. As happens in the Olympics, not everyone wins gold.
We fear mediocrity.
Your life’s purpose up until this point has been preparatory. In middle school, you took accelerated math courses and sought the coveted spots in gifted and talented programs. You were pushed to read at a ninth grade level. The first two years of high school were about getting into the right AP courses and extracurriculars so that you’d be set for junior year, when you started looking for colleges. You applied, categorized, studied and vetted. You got in.
You went off to college. Four years preparing you for one of two things: graduate school, or real life. (Or both.)
College is over in a montage of tears, hugs and well wishes at graduation. You didn’t just spend 4 years preparing for your “real life.” You spent 22 years preparing. So it needs to culminate in something amazing. You’ve been given every opportunity, and now you’re going to put it to good use.
And that’s the problem with being given every opportunity. We are so fortunate to have gone to college, and thankful to our families, but there’s pressure that comes with being given the world. It’s a conditional gift. It’s waiting for you to do something with it.
And you’re scared you can’t. You’re scared you’ll fuck it up somehow. You’re scared that in your search for greatness, you’ll land at mediocre and settle.
These are the years when you question everything.
We start our first job, need more money, move to the next job. Do the entry-level thing. You love it. Or, no, that’s right, you actually wanted to kill yourself. Our mothers and fathers worked grueling office jobs so that we could pursue our dreams. Instead, we are beginning our pursuit of the same shitty office jobs and it feels wrong.
We start dating someone – or we graduate with our college or high school sweetheart by our side. Is this it? Now that we’re in real life mode, do we move in and get married?
We’re scared of calling it too soon. We’re scared to get comfortable in our relationship, because what if it’s not right? What if we’re just holding onto a relationship because it’s the only constant we have?
We can’t commit to a location. It may not be the right one for our career. Our soulmate may be waiting across the country and what if we pick the wrong place and never find the right person? We worry we’ll be stuck in our dead-end jobs 20 years from now. We are scared we’ll end up in a loveless marriage.
We’re scared our decisions will be set in stone.
They won’t. So right now, in the midst of all this confusion, you need to just make a decision. Stop complaining about your choices and start following through. Pick a city. Maybe the right guy isn’t waiting for you there, but the wrong guy is and maybe he’ll be more fun. If you’re trying to pick a job, stop griping and choose based on your instinct. If you don’t have the support of your parents or friends right away, trust that it will come. The worst that can happen is that your instincts fail you and you leave that job.
This uncertainty won’t last forever and your decisions are less permanent than you think they are. You aren’t a victim of your own choices unless you let yourself become one. Anything can change as long as you aren’t stagnant.
So look at your life in this moment and decide what you want to keep. Do you want to hold on to your relationship? Do you want to pursue the field you’re in? Purge your life of the things weighing you down. If you’re struggling with a choice, remember that you are only non-committal when you aren’t actually excited about what you’re committing to. Commitment is easier when you know it’s what you want.
As clichéd as it sounds, great things really are ahead. Maybe you’re going to accomplish all of your career goals, maybe you’ll realize you have none and will have to tear apart everything you’ve learned. Either way, there’s an amazing journey ahead.