When we graduated high school it was as if we were handed our diplomas and a sign that read, “Ask me what I am doing with my life.” The months following commencement our friends, families and even strangers asked us the prying question.
They inquired what it is that we intend to do. Having been through this period of life, I can attest to the fact that, yes, it is scary. Do not let anybody convince you that it is not. While it is terrifying to be faced with the challenge of choosing what direction to take your life, it is also one of the most beautiful opportunities a person is ever faced with. My advice: do what makes you happy.
Firstly, it is important to realize that you are never too old to answer the question of what you want to do with your life. Today you might feel one way, but if next year you have grown to feel differently it is imperative that you embrace this inner change and pursue the upgraded life plan your heart desires.
As humans we are constantly in a state of vulnerability because in every facet of life we are exposed to new opportunities. Things as simple as, “Should I hit snooze one more time?” open up a multitude of possibilities. Sure, you can spring out of bed and start your day, but you may just feel that the extra hours you spent alphabetizing your record collection last night warrants a little bonus snooze session. Perhaps you will choose the third — often unintended — option, and turn off the alarm before falling back to sleep, only to wake up too late.
None of these decisions are wrong, so long as you accept full ownership of the action that you take. When making big decisions about things like whether or not to go to school or what subject to major in, you must think for yourself. Everybody else can and will have an opinion about what you should do with your life, but ultimately you must be responsible for your choice because you are the one who will live with it. Making a decision is as simple (or complicated) as getting out of bed in the morning.
After you graduate high school you can jump right into college, pursue a trade, join a branch of the military, participate in volunteer programs such as City Year or the Peace Corps, take a gap year to work, take a gap year to travel, earn your cosmetology license or maybe do nothing at all.
The key is to do what makes you happy. Pick the route that seems to suit your life vision. Any of the above options can bring you through the next phase of your life with a smile, perhaps with the exception of the last. This period of life just after high school is all about establishing independence, so those who do nothing typically are not happy until they decide to start moving in some direction. So pick something, anything. Decide on a goal, short term, long term, small or large, and attack it with full force so you can feel confident and happy about where you are going with your life.
Take pride in what you are choosing to do.
The very best bits of advice I have ever read have all come from an essay written by Mary Schmich. She writes, “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at twenty-two what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting forty-year-olds I know still don’t.” This line has resonated with me throughout my post-high-school life.
First the words wiggled their way into my thoughts when I transferred from community college to a private college. Again I heard them when I decided after just a semester that I wanted to attend a public school. The words rang through my head as I decided to change my major. These words always reinforced the idea that each of these changes was simply an attempt to follow my inner compass.
No matter how much the direction I was going changed, my path has always been my choice. Ultimately each of these choices has helped me to maintain a happy life. When you decide you are not happy with the direction your life is going, make a change.
Sometimes people are pressured by parents or family members to pursue a degree in a particular subject. Although inheriting a family company might be an option, be sure that such a decision was yours, and not made for you.
An article on Early To Rise lists the five biggest life regrets as recorded by nurse Bronnie Ware. Number one on the list: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Allow this quote to reinforce your choices, let it drive you to live a life true to yourself, so you do not wind up with similar regrets.
Although I discourage you from dwelling over the future, it is important to set some general long-term goals. Choosing a profession to strive for ensures that you will end up working in a field that you enjoy. I think the most terrifying thought is to be someone who wakes up every morning to go to a job that they hate. If this is ever the case for you, quit and seek other options. The world is too vast, opportunity is too ample to terrorize your sanity spending precious moments of life doing things you abhor.
Now ask yourself, what are you going to do? Although I cannot answer this question for you specifically, I generally advise that you decide for yourself the path you wish to follow. Allow others to open your mind to the many routes out there, but always remember to lead the way in your own life.
Arline Votruba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org