Earlier this month, many undergraduate students took the plunge into the real world. Degree in hand and a newly lifted spirit, these fresh graduates are capable of taking over the world if they set their minds to it. Some have their next step all figured out, some do not.
I am in the latter group.
Yes. I, Sierra Zimmer, graduated this semester. All my hard work and late-night studying have come down to this. But what comes next?
Taking a step back
You might think that taking a step back when you are supposed to be moving forward in life is a bit ludicrous, but sometimes a step back is vital for a better perspective. Going to school, and everything in between, can be overwhelming and up close. Focusing on everything all at once makes it even more difficult to reach your goals. There is no time to think about these small steps as you’re already onto the next one.
After one test, I had to do my readings for another class, or I had an essay to write. But my friends wanted to go out during those times, or there was an event on campus. I had to manage my time between experiencing college social life and getting good grades. Before I knew it, I had already crossed the finish line.
I’ve enjoyed every little step, don’t get me wrong. But what now? With a degree, every next step (classes-wise) is already planned out for you until you graduate. You just have to follow the degree sheet and then you’re already walking down that lovely carpet to get your diploma.
But now with classes over, there’s no more step-by-step to life. After 21 years of every choice being laid out in front of me, I am met with endless possibilities. And with no more classes to fill up my schedule, I have the time to ponder these options. I’ve completed what I’ve set out to accomplish. With a degree in my hands and my proud parents looking over my shoulder, I can take a step back and admire all the things I gained along the way and more importantly, recollect all the things I may have lost.
Renewing old interests
I recognize that this newfound freedom of school can be overwhelming. The question “What now?” doesn’t always strike as a good thing. How can you decide on your next step when you don’t even know your options or how to get there? And while some people can proudly claim that they’re starting their dream job or are headed to graduate school or whatever else their hearts set out to, I find myself in the “I don’t know” category.
So, I set out to rediscover what I want to do. As a kid, I had a clear path for myself. I wanted to become a writer. I have written stories since I was eight years old and I read through books faster than anyone in my family, flipping through books of romance, drama, and adventure. I loved reading and writing, so I pursued a degree in English. And while I read a lot of classics and wrote many essays, all of which inspired me, I didn’t write much. I didn’t have time for extra reading and writing between everything else going on, and when I did have time, I wasn’t as inspired anymore. It made me doubt my degree. How could I want to be a writer when I didn’t even write if it wasn’t for a grade? If I didn’t even have the creativity in me to make a new story?
Of course, this position at the Love Yourself Foundation gave me new outlets for my hobbies. I’ve edited a variety of pieces and written my own variety as well. But now that I have finished schooling, the possibilities are endless.
Since getting my degree two weeks ago, I have read four books for my own enjoyment that I wouldn’t have even looked at if I were in school. I have written pages of a story that would’ve been replaced with literature analysis essays. And I have never felt more in love with reading and writing, a great part because of what I’ve learned with my degree. My appreciation for the classics and in-depth learning of style, dynamic characters, building setting, etc., etc. have all assisted me in writing better and finding more interest in my writing.
Renewing your past interests with all your open time can help you to see what you want to be doing next. Of course, this doesn’t always give you an instant step-by-step guide on how to get there, and you may even find your passion for that old interest has disappeared completely.
Each of these is okay and normal. Take a step back, again, and figure out what you want to do. There is no one path to life, and it is okay to stray for a bit.
Taking a chance to breathe
Rediscovering those interests has allowed me to find what I want to do. I would like to write and edit books. My position at the Love Yourself Foundation has given me a head start, but I don’t have a step-by-step to get there.
So I take one step forward. Just as I renewed my interests in reading and writing, I’ve researched what those interests can lead me towards. By researching different positions and possibilities down the line, I gain a better understanding of the next chapter of my life: achieving my dream job. While not having the steps laid out for me, I know now what experience I need to get there which then allows me to find my next step. I’m able to carve my own path because I have room to explore different routes.
This is why it is important to give yourself room to breathe and not overwhelm yourself with all the possibilities and how you’ll get there.
Even if you’re unsure of what to do now to get to that next step, that is your step. It is important to take the time to figure out what you want to do and not rush it. Practically (and unfortunately), not many of us have the luxury to take a break and figure out our steps, but it’s completely normal to take a job during this period until you can.
Experiment with what you enjoy and find what you are passionate about. If you’re taking a simple 9-5 to earn your income, take an hour every night (or morning if you’re more of a morning person) to just explore. Find what you enjoy doing and how you can implement that into your everyday life and work. Attend job fairs and networking opportunities. Look on LinkedIn or Handshake or Indeed or any of the other job-searching websites for a position that you would thrive in. And if you find the perfect job, don’t let yourself get discouraged if you don’t fit the qualifications. Now you know the big goal (like the undergraduate degree was before). Now it’s all about finding the steps to get there.
It’s been only two weeks since my graduation, so I can’t say I’m an expert on this topic. But I do know that leading up to graduation, and ever since, I’ve felt this large amount of anxiety to know what’s next. So many graduates already know what they’re going to do now and I’ve felt like I’m falling behind. It’s an unrealistic expectation I’ve set for myself. To know exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life. To already be taking steps to get there.
And since graduating, many people have been giving me advice for this anxiety. Take it slow and everything will fall into place. I need to take a second to breathe and give myself time to figure out what I want. And of course, I still feel that anxiety. This anxiety is normal when you’ve attended years of school, always knowing exactly what is next. To not know is to take a plunge into the real world. It is exactly what I have been working towards, and yet, it scares me. And that’s okay. I don’t expect you to just suddenly vanish those anxieties because “it’s normal” but I just want you to know that I’m with you. I believe in each of you, whether you know exactly what you want to do or you’re as lost as I am. You’ll get there. You’ll do great things. Just as I know I will.
Congratulations to all graduates of 2023!
About The Author
Sierra is a recent English graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). She enjoys writing and reading with a passion. She is especially passionate about sustainability and human rights and she hopes to use her writing to inspire others in these movements. As the Editor-in-Chief at LYF, Sierra is happy for the opportunity to contribute to these topics. When not reading or writing, she can be found playing video games or binge-watching TV. The things she loves most include strawberries, new stationery, and her bed.