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Is it okay to take some time off after university to devise a plan for the future?

The years after high school, college, vocational school, graduate school, PhD programs – you name it – can be some of the most daunting, frustrating, confusing, terrifying, and amazing periods in peoples’ lives. For many graduates, these years mean that they are no longer reliant on their parents, and that school schedules and demands are no longer dictating their lives. Post-grads are free to be whoever, do whatever, go wherever, and take however long we need to figure things out – at least in theory.

This transition into “adulthood” can be incredibly complicated – and that’s an understatement. Understandably so, instead of embracing this new and freeing stage, many may end up feeling anxious, fearful, and apprehensive about what the future has in store, and what their lives will look like in that future.

I myself can relate to these feelings. Like many before me, I recently finished my graduate studies, and, of course, the classic question now is – “What next?”. I know that people always mean well when asking, but really, do I have to have an answer to that? Do post-grads have to have the right plan, right away? This question is particularly poignant since, for most of our lives, big decisions have often been made for us.

Just picture a world that supports soul-searching

For recent grads, school debt, financial burdens, visa problems, social or familial pressures, etc. may be forcing them to determine next steps right away. Ideally, decisions wouldn’t have to be made so quickly, especially for those who aren’t ready to make them. After all, isn’t everyone entitled to doing some soul-searching, and to being given the space to figure out how they want to live their lives? If only everyone would be able to take the time to figure out what they value and what sort of skills they would like to develop, moving forward. Just picture a world that supported that.

For some, or who am I kidding, for most of the people I know, the time after graduation is anything but smooth. There are almost too many options for what a graduate can do – Should I live in my home country or abroad, volunteer with a non-profit, assist in conflict or disaster zones, work remotely, freelance, follow multiple career paths at once, take some time for myself, travel, help others, or do some or all of the above? And how do I do something that really impresses my future employers, and sets me apart from all of those who are trying to find their way, just like me?

At one point, all of these questions can get to be too much. I mean, we can’t do everything. I feel like I need to say that again: we can’t do everything. Ultimately, we’ll have to choose. If anything can be taken from this post, it’s that we all can at least choose to do something. Even just one thing, so long as we are happy about it, and do it well. To determine what that one thing is, we have to figure out what excites us, what motivates us to get out of bed and start our days with meaning. Whether we find that the answer relates to personal growth (fitness, finding spirituality, reading, writing, etc.), helping others, or working, we have to find what we want to do, and do it.

How about opportunities instead of problems?

In my opinion, it’s okay to take the time to figure out what we want to do job-wise, so long as we’re doing something with the time we’re given. And no, catching up on our favorite shows is not what I have in mind.

While school has brought us to a certain point, it hasn’t prepared us for everything – particularly this point we are in now of having to choose and just do. So, in a sense, we will always be students, because we will always have learning to do. We just have to initiate this learning ourselves, which is an even greater challenge than what we’re used to, with maybe even greater, more fulfilling rewards.
Although it seems ill fitting for a recent grad like me to be giving others advice, I will at least say this – we can run our own lives. Life isn’t just about impressive CVs, networking with the right people, sending out tweets, and having the perfect Instagram account. If it were, life wouldn’t be all that fulfilling. I like to think that life is about doing and being involved in much, much more than what appears on our newsfeeds and Buzzfeeds.

I especially like to think about how we don’t have to fit into certain molds, and continue in this sort of “conveyor belt”, standardized type of thinking when it comes to life and work. That’s what I admire about this Young European Collective and other initiatives from our generation. We can embrace the modern world and its changes, and live lives that move beyond certain established norms. We can be engaged in things that make us happy, fill our souls, and really connect us with other people – especially those who think like we do.

So instead of thinking about the #PostGradProblems that we are facing, or will inevitably face, it seems right to think about this stage as full of opportunities instead. While it may not sound as catchy, what do you think about making #PostGradPossibilities a new trend? Who’s with me?

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