I have always tried to think one step ahead and am constantly planning my next adventure. During the summers was when I’d prepare for the spring semester—why? Because I’m a planner. I despise discovering that I’ve missed out on an opportunity simply because I didn’t know about it soon enough. One of my professors used to say, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” So I started feeling beside myself senior year when I couldn’t create a set plan post-graduation; I was having trouble envisioning my next step. I had always assumed that by senior year my burning passion for a certain industry would lead the way. Instead, I was more confused than ever before.
I kept creating deadlines for myself like, “Cathryn, if you don’t have a job by March, you’re going to need to start panicking.” Yet when March came and went I realized I was no closer to figuring out where I wanted to go and how I was going to reach my career goals. I felt stuck. The thing I love most in life is adventure. While everyone praised me for going out there and trying new things in college, as soon as I walked across the stage, it seemed as if those quests would suddenly become unprofessional. Jumping around from one adventure to another isn’t any way to live an accomplished life, said hiring experts in the articles I read on LinkedIn. Yet that’s what makes me happy: learning from different job experiences and taking on different roles. I started to see that in the real world experimenting is all good and fun until graduation. While in college it made me “ambitious,” a “go-getter,” or “career-minded,” after graduation it suddenly meant I was “wishy-washy” and “lacked focus.” Apparently I was supposed to have everything figured out by May 17th 2014 because by the 18th, it was time to buckle down.
This made me feel sad and discouraged. It seemed as though I was going to have to sacrifice happiness for the sake of professionalism.
Then there came the pressure, oh the societal pressure. “What’s next?” “Have a job yet?” “Where are you living?” “Shouldn’t you go to grad school now because otherwise you’ll never go back?” “Have you tried networking?” (side eye) “Any leads?” I knew it was coming, but the bombardment of questions still felt so unfair. Couldn’t I be at peace in my post-grad journey? People had never been so curious about my life before. I had been so open about my previous internship experiences that I felt as though everyone was expecting a lot from me (which of course, wasn’t necessarily true because people were rightfully much more concerned with their own lives). “You don’t even need to worry about getting the job you want, you’ll be fine,” some people said. While flattering, it didn’t really make me feel much better considering there I was, worrying about getting a job that I wouldn’t hate.
Okay so here’s my turning point: realizing that I’m not alone. In fact, many successful people felt this exact same way —the key is to not let it get you stuck in a rut. My mom bought me the book, “I Just Graduated…Now What?” by Katherine Schwarzenegger, which has helped me realize that this sense of confusion is not a foreshadowing of everlasting failure. After studying in Prague for five weeks I came home and decided that I was going to take the rest of the summer to pause. Thankfully, my parents were very supportive of this. I believe we live in a society that over-glorifies the idea of busyness, so it takes deliberate effort to slow down and think things through. I had been so focused on hitting all of life’s milestones at the “right time” that I wasn’t listening to myself. Other people had been encouraging me to follow their suggested career paths–the up-and-coming industries, the jobs that would make me more money, or the industry where my talents would be best suited–and while I appreciated all of the advice (in fact, I had asked for it) I was forgetting to ask myself what I wanted as well.
Since returning home I have physically written down what I do and don’t want in a job as well as in a career, which has helped clarify my goals. My time has also been spent getting back in shape and into a healthier lifestyle, volunteering around the city, reading—lots and lots of reading, and spending time with my family. I’ve been told over and over that once your career picks up, the time you get with your parents and siblings is scarce. While it’s definitely worthy of applaud, landing a job right out of college is hardly a fair determinant of whether someone has his or her life together or not. Untraditional paths lead to untraditional and extraordinary lives and that’s exactly the kind of life I want to live. So it turns out I’m right where I need to be.
On Saturday I’m moving to Washington D.C. for a new opportunity. I’d be lying if I said that the future still doesn’t look foggy. I can’t conclude this chapter in my life and announce today that I’ve figured everything out but I do feel that my confidence in myself is back. The story of “Who Cathryn will Become” is so far from being finished but I feel motivated to write down what I have so far.
If you’re a recent graduate or are embarking on another one of life’s transitions, you may feel like everyone BUT you has it together, but you’re not alone. And sometimes being aware of that makes all of the difference. That girl who blogs all the career advice? Yep, she’s in the same boat too. ; )