“So, what now?” That’s what we typically ask ourselves whenever we accomplish something great in our lives. Maybe you got a promotion, aced an exam, or just graduated college. Sixteen (or more) years of sitting in classrooms, taking notes, doing homework, and (for some of us) it’s finally over. We don our caps and gowns, shake some hands, smile for pictures, and enter a world without classrooms or grades unless your degree is in education. Which, in that case, those are things you enjoy. So, what now?
What do we do after experiencing the bittersweet feeling of separation from academia? After all, we don’t attach ourselves to the brick and mortar, the plaster and drywall. We attach ourselves to those we leave behind: the professors, the advisors, and the underclassmen. And so, before we can even begin to process it, the final semester draws to a close, the final class is attended, and the final exam is turned in.
It’s almost juvenile to see oneself as “not an adult” but, what we don’t understand, is that every functioning adult has come to this proverbial marker on the road of life and wondered just what the next step may be. We have to allow ourselves to cross the finish line eventually. Over time, we set the goalposts back after every small achievement; pass the test, pass the class, move onto the next semester, rinse and repeat. But that cycle cannot be repeated ad nauseum. Eventually, we must allow ourselves the taste of finality. We must eventually cross the finish line of a long-time life goal and bask in the smiles, the handshakes, the seemingly endless chorus of congratulatory praises and platitudes. Because, in the end, we deserve it.
To gaze off into the horizon of a tomorrow where we don’t observe a schedule of classes but a typical nine to five work life may seem like a morose and demotivating mental outlook, but what we may not see is that once the chapter of education has closed, there is still an entire story to experience.
I say this as a college graduate who was just shoved into the real world with barely the opportunity to put on my pants before experiencing the cold reality of my situation; change is good.
Change challenges us, aggravating the waters of stagnation and forcing us to adapt to new circumstances, using our arsenal of skills accumulated over sixteen years of education to tackle the obstacles of life head-on. One cannot hope to improve unless they experience some adversity. And the transition from academia to the real world is just that, a transition from one adversity to the next. This transition need not be scary, though. In fact, it should be exciting.
Living in the real world is something that many of us have not experienced. I recognize that a plethora of students is also responsible for holding down full-time jobs, paying the rent check every month, and so on. But for the rest of the graduating class whose entire life has been school and summer part-time jobs, this is a whole new world of uncharted waters. So, I say to those who are embarking into those uncharted waters this fall semester or even the next spring semester; set sail.
Set sail into the waters of the unknown and do not forsake the ambition and courage that brought you to this point in life. Do not settle for less than you are owed. Do not accept mediocrity. Do not lose ambition or drive. This journey was but a tip of the iceberg that is life as we know it. So, dive, immerse yourself in the shock of dark, unexplored territory, and breathe deep the air of newfound possibility.
Congratulate yourself. You’ve earned it.