A couple weeks ago, I found myself at a party in a surprisingly deep and thoughtful, albeit slightly drunk, conversation with the new girlfriend of a friend of mine. We were meeting for the first time, but had each had a couple drinks at this point in the night, so what would have normally been basic small talk quickly launched into a heart-to-heart between two recently employed second-semester seniors.
After we realized that we had both recently accepted full-time positions for post-graduation, hers in consulting and mine in finance, we expressed our mutual feelings of excitement and anticipation, as well as mild trepidation and preemptive nostalgia. She then asked me a pretty simple question:
“What will you be doing after graduation before your start date?”
With about a month and a half’s time to spare, I explained that I would probably spend a fraction of it at home enjoying the company of local friends, another fraction with my family at my grandparents’ summer home, and the remaining portion moving into a new apartment and getting settled. With a playful, yet serious smirk, she replied:
“Wait, you’re not going to travel at all?”
Although she meant not to criticize me personally, she went on to challenge me to temporarily cast aside the comforts of my suburban upbringing and go out and really see the world, while I still had the chance.
“I have always wanted to travel through Europe, but I’ve never had the courage to make concrete plans,” I admitted, which was true.
“Not even Europe? You can and you should see Europe, but that’s not really experiencing the world. That’s tourism. Go to sub-Saharan Africa. Go to Southeast Asia. Go to Central America. Experience some radically different culture,” she went on.
As the conversation continued and our BACs remained elevated, I began to seriously buy into what she was saying. It’s not like I hadn’t heard similar arguments before; all students at elite colleges and universities are encouraged and well-empowered to take a semester or summer abroad studying in a foreign country. Like many, though, I had chosen not to, and this was okay. Understandably so — athletic commitments kept me on campus from September through May, and the pressure to secure internships of increasing prestige each summer kept me in New York from June through August.
Regardless of whether one studied abroad, though, there seems to be an even greater push for recently-graduated 20-somethings to ‘go out and really see the world,’ beyond the archetypical Junior-Fall semester spent in Paris. Shave your head or let your hair grow out, pack nothing but the essentials for survival and a notebook for reflection, and then take that six-month back-packing trip through the Andean countryside. You’re in your prime: educated yet still eager to learn, independent yet grounded, and financially stable yet unconcerned. Why not explore the world and experience new modes of life and thought?
Because some of us 20-somethings do not desire to travel and see the world. Despite lofty societal notions and the prescriptions of many parents, the vast majority of us will not become the world leaders of tomorrow, nor do many have the desire to be. Most of us will operate our lives in much smaller spheres, as we wish to, and that’s okay. I dream of finding my ultimate passion in life and pursuing it to the fullest, while also building a family and a secure life to reach true fulfillment. Do I know where this abstract conception of a life purpose will take me? Not in the slightest. For all I know, it will take me out of my current sphere and into the very world that I have little interest in at present. But that is how I feel at present, and the way my desires change and decisions are subsequently affected will be my journey to discover, and my story to write. It will not be dictated nor planned out by others.
The next time I saw my friend’s girlfriend was a few days later, and the first thing she did was apologize profusely for ‘telling me what to do with my life.’ I laughed and assured her that I was not at all offended, as I truthfully enjoyed the conversation and appreciated hearing a raw perspective from a fellow soon-to-be college graduate who was also entering the business world. However, the similarity of our sober reflections on the conversation confirmed my ultimate takeaway, that the best advantage of being a recently-graduated 20-something ‘in your prime’ is the ability to do whatever you want to do. That may entail traveling the world, or settling down into a desk job, or returning to your hometown, or doing something completely off the beaten path. So don’t travel if you don’t want to; rather, do whatever it is that you truly want to do.