Graduation season is upon us! Many will soon walk across a stage in a fancy gown, shake hands and receive a piece of paper that signifies years of hard work and dedication to a task. Well done!
Many more of us are looking ahead to the future, wondering about our place in it, our goals, and our purpose. We’re asking, “What’s next?” That’s the inevitable question you’ve probably heard or asked yourself hundreds of times.
“So, what are your plans now?”
What happens when you don’t have an answer? You might utter a quick, vague answer while the anxiety of the future plays out in your head, the existential dread deepening each passing day.
You are not the only one that doesn’t have an answer to this question.
It is more than okay to not have your life figured yet. Your life can still have meaning and purpose even if it didn’t fall exactly into place the day you earned your diploma.
Not knowing what’s next is normal, but it’s still terrifying. It’s okay to be anxious about the future when you’re unsure where you’re going next— but you don’t have to stay in that place of fear.
Here are some ideas for stepping into this new season with less anxiety and more confidence in your future:
1. Celebrate your right-now and what you’ve done and how far you’ve come before jumping into the next season.
We have a tendency in our culture to wish away our present with worry about the future. What would it look like to savor your right now before overwhelming yourself with the next steps?
You worked hard. You dedicated many hours of your life to be where you are. You have come this far. CELEBRATE!! Enjoy this season of excitement and new beginnings. Before you rush off to the next chapter, savor the ending of this one. Take time to reminisce on memories and find gratitude for the present before hustling towards whatever is coming next — it will be there waiting on you.
2. Ask Mentors/friends around you for wisdom, or look for a career counselor to guide you.
During my last semester of college, I off-handedly joked about having no clue what I was doing post-grad. My friend Nate was lovingly concerned about my cluelessness, and offered to sit down with me and go over ideas and goals and logistics. It was immensely helpful to have a friend ask me hard questions about what I want to do, where I want to go, and what I want my life to look like.
Find people that will do the same for you — those that know you and love you and will point out the places that God is working in your life. Be bold enough to ask for their advice. Listen to them and their ideas for you — they will give you the wisdom and guidance you need.
A related suggestion: Seek advice within your school’s career/job center, or look into finding a career counselor. It is a counselor’s role to help you with all things jobs, so don’t be afraid to ask them for help!
3. Get your practical materials in order.
The logistics of job-finding and next steps are difficult, no matter your experience, your job desires, or your qualifications. Start by fine tuning your job-seeking materials: your resumé, cover letter, and interview skills. Have someone walk through resumé and cover-letter design with you. Have another person go over your completed materials for errors or discrepancies. Line up recommendations before employers ask for them.. Have someone practice interview skills with you
Before an actual interview, read over the company’s website so you know the ins and outs of the organization. During the interview, ask any questions you think would be important to know. Before I interviewed for an internship, I had my career development office friends walk me through interview tips and tricks so I would be thoroughly prepared for whatever came my way (and I got the internship!).
Having people help you with these practicalities relieves some of the stress of job hunting — you will feel so much more prepared and confident going into the job-seeking world with quality content to wow employers everywhere.
4. Consider taking a gap year internship or job as you figure out your next steps.
If you’re unsure about what you want to do next, take a year to gather yourself and give yourself a break. Taking a gap year helps you re-focus, allows you to make and save money, and gives you time to figure out your true wants. There are various gap-year programs available where you can intern, travel, do missions work, or more; or you can take a year off to join the workforce, depending on your needs and the opportunities available. I took a year-long internship at a wonderful nonprofit in Nashville after graduating; this year provided me opportunities to use the skills I learned in college while developing new skills in a new environment. It also opened a new career avenue I wasn’t expecting. Taking a break from job hunting and worrying about careers and grad school allowed me space to think clearly about my next steps without a deadline hovering over me.
5. Look at your spiritual gifts, talents, and hobbies: where could you use them in a career? What are you passionate about? Where could you use your knowledge to further the good in the world?
Take some time to think on the ways you can use your talents, learned skills, and interests in your future career. Do you like to help people? Find a career where serving is a major component. Do you prefer being behind the scenes or being in the middle of the action? Take your interests, your personality, and your passions into account. Look back to your classes and experiences to decipher and discern the skills you learned, the places where you can use those skills, and where your passions and interests intersect. That’s where you’ll find your calling.
At the end of the day, remember that it is okay to not have it all figured out. Your life will work out, whether or not you have your 10-year plan for the future already mapped out in detail. This might be time for you to learn, grow, and discover yourself — make your plans, work on your dreams, but know that it doesn’t mean you have to have everything lined up just yet. Give yourself grace — sooner or later, your eyes will be opened to the path in front of you.
Jordan Taylor is a freelance writer and blogger based in Nashville, Tenn.