Navigating the “what now?”-ness of accomplishments
The feeling you get when you’ve finally finished something you worked on for so long
Completing a major milestone is great, and for most, it’s a time to relax and enjoy the art of nothingness for a little while. For others, it’s time to reflect on how reaching this point, once, felt so unattainable. Yet, with these overwhelmingly positive feelings, comes an undeniable sense of uncertainty.
I admit, there’s no single more compelling motivator in my life than the thought of being able to see something through to the end. At times it makes me anxious, worried, nervous, absolutely petrified. What if I don’t obtain the result I envisaged? Or, maybe I overlooked something and got it all wrong? Did I fact-check EVERYTHING? If you’re a perfectionist, these worries might be daily thoughts, and while I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist in my everyday life – determined as I am – the questions posed still haunt any major project or event I embark on. I think this is something most people can relate to.
At 22 years old, while I am making steady progress in my journalism, most of my accomplishments still sit in the field of academia, i.e. submitting essays, projects, and finishing Uni... twice. For those of you who have completed a segment of education and decided to go no further, this post might resonate particularly with you. Perhaps you finished school and you don’t want to go to college, now what? Or, similarly, you finished college, and University isn’t for you. So, as September brings to mind a significant month in the educational calendar, this post is for those of us who have finished with it.
My University life is split into two, existentially different entities. The first, for those who can relate, was a haze of rushed assignments and partying too much. The second was much calmer in this respect, but an equally (if not more) challenging and nail-biting experience. Of course, I am comparing the undergraduate mess of a routine to the postgraduate more-put-together lifestyle. In spite of the vastly differing experiences a lot of us will have had of those times, I felt exactly the same when I completed both courses: weird.
On the one hand, I’ve just finished three/four years of education away from home and come out the other end (barely) alive! This is feat in and of itself, on top of which, I actually got the grade I wanted. I can enjoy having space in my head for thoughts which aren’t occupied by Husserl’s transcendental ego or Sartre’s refusal of it. I can rejoice in my freedom without wondering “is anyone really free?”
On the other hand… Am I supposed to know what to do now?
The serious answer is: no. Not everyone knows in which direction their life should be going post-education, and most people say you never really work it out. As I’ve gotten older, more adults have revealed to me that, although it appears as if they’ve got it all mapped out— they haven’t. Not only that, they say, but no one has. Your path, I suppose, is the summation of a series of actions that were undertaken by the “you” that existed at an earlier point in your life.
This doesn’t mean to say that you can’t plan to evade this “what now?”-ness feeling if you wish to, so, I’ve put together a little list of things that I think might help if that’s what you want to do right now.
1. Create a list
First of all, the continuation of this post is now a list, and lists are great. They serve me well in attempting to organise my daily schedule, and I believe this is one of the ways that I arrived at my current trajectory. Making a note of a series of chores or errands is a proven way to make sure most (if not all) get done. So, why not apply it to your future?
Making it broad and widely applicable is helpful, so, for example: What are you good at? Write a list of ten things you feel you are skilled at. Or, if you’re like me, start at five and add to it when you remember, “oh yeah, I got a badge in trampolining that one time 15 years ago.”
Another good one is: What do you enjoy? List everything that really makes you feel great, or that you could do all day. Fortunately for me, I have a passion for writing. Can you tell?
A great way to tap into what you love is to think about things that really tick you off. You’re pissed off that certain politicians care more about the economy than the planet? This could mean a number of things, but what springs to mind immediately is that you care about the environment, people, and challenging the status quo. These are all passions that ignite some long-lasting and fruitful careers for many. Or, perhaps, you don’t care that some politicians don’t care about… anything? Maybe a career in politics is for you!
2. Look at what others are doing
For me, this was confusing. Some of my peers are travelling the world, some are still in education, and others are reaping the financial rewards of fulltime work while the rest of us scrape by on hospitality wages. I’m not bitter, promise.
At the start of the year, I was planning to go travelling around Australia with a friend when we’d finished our courses. I was working and saving hard, and nearly jeopardised my final project for it. Travelling, I thought, was my only passion. All I wanted was to see everything I could.
When the plans fell apart, I really started to feel quite lost. I was still determined to do it alone, until I started seeing people around me succeed professionally. I’m someone who ultimately has two very strong lifetime/career aspirations, I know I’m a traveller, so my first is to explore as many new places as possible. The second is to be a success in my chosen field for work that highlights social injustices and inequalities, and to really try and invoke change. So, I thought, travel for a few years first, then come back and build a career.
I started looking around me more closely at those of my friends who were succeeding in their work life, and having just finished a Master’s, it made me want to do the same. My advice here is to speak to a variety of people who took different paths and really weigh up which one might be for you. Google jobs you might like, places you’d like to visit, or things you’ve always wanted to do.
If you decide to travel, follow travel blogs, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Read articles about safe spots to visit, and how to do it right. Find organisations who can sponsor you to volunteer, or offer support while you venture across the world.
Similarly, if you decide to go for work, do the same. I would strongly advise on researching as extensively as you can.
3. Go with the change
Basically, do what you want. And don’t feel bad for it. Allow yourself to explore different avenues during this time. Accept that your trajectory will look very different from everyone else’s, but that it’s still okay to take inspiration from your peers. After all, you might look at your friend’s Snapchat of the gorgeous Indian sunset and think, “Nope, I’ll stay in Birmingham, thanks.”
Coming to accept that this is a directionless period of your life is an important part of growing as a person. It will either drive you to your one true goal, or it will force you to explore a multitude of them. Either way, it’s a good time for reflecting.And, try not to feel intimidated by Bossy Becky who is 20 and already bagged herself a well-paid corporate role in the financial quarter because… is that really you?
The whole point is to go at your own pace and do things your way.
I’m not saying I’m absolutely sure of my fate for the coming months, being open to change is crucial, but these few simple ideas got me out of the daunting headspace that surrounds uncertainty.