Growing up, I knew I liked to write. I was one of those kids who wrote little stories on the backs of scrap paper. I read constantly, unable to get into a five-minute car ride without a book in hand. I never questioned my love for these things. I think kids are more developed than adults in that way: they know what they like and what they don’t with complete certainty.
But somewhere along the way, I lost mine. School got harder and seemingly direr. Afternoons became filled with homework assignments and studying. Teachers became more critical. In my junior year of high school, I had an English teacher that was notorious for being especially harsh. Anyone who got an A and a college recommendation from him was practically destined for the Ivy League. I can’t remember now, but I think I got an A- in that class, and I took that to both be a failure and a truth that I was not good enough to pursue writing.
So I didn’t. I studied Psychology and Spanish in college, two things about which I have become passionate. But my love of writing always snuck into my life: I took English classes for fun and got excited whenever professors assigned essays. Still, I actively rejected the idea that I could write in a serious career way. The job title writer was reserved for those who went to top universities and won awards and were always running around doing really impressive things. I just wasn’t one of those people.
I graduated in May, diploma in hand and the whole world in front of me with absolutely no idea what I was doing. While I had ultimately loved what I studied, I didn’t see a definitive future. I had bounced around so much in college, trying out various clubs and summer jobs, often in the non-profit sector, that I was a little lost at the end. I found that work interesting, but I had my doubts about it as a career path. There I was, surrounded by my friends who finally had the ticket to pursue jobs or graduate school in their fields. And as I held mine, it felt like I was entering this world that may well have been a black and endless abyss.
There’s so much pressure in the U.S. to know what you want to do. College is the time to figure it out and make lots of mistakes, but then you leave and grow up and get yourself a job with a 401K. You may not land your dream job right away, but at least you’re working towards a future you know you want.
My twin sister is almost done with her first year of medical school, fulfilling her dream of becoming a doctor that she’s wanted since she was ten-years-old. I’m almost done with a year-long English teaching program in Colombia, a time period during which I had decided I would figure out what it is I want to do. But rather than wrapping up my time here knowing what my next step is going to be, I wound up turning down a job and have never felt more confused regarding what I want to pursue. As I’ve discovered new interests and confronted old assumptions about what types of jobs I might want, I’ve never felt further away from the little girl scribbling on scrap paper who knew she loved to write.
But somehow, I’ve learned to embrace this post-grad uncertainty. While my future is only becoming foggier, I feel I have discovered something even more important than knowing what I want: knowing what I don’t want. I’m more in-tune than ever with the things that do and don’t bring me joy. Maybe living abroad for a year and having to figure out how to exist in such a foreign space has given me a protective layer of confidence, but I’ve realized how silly it is to expect young people (or any people) to know exactly what they want. The idea that there’s just one thing we’re destined to do feels even more ridiculous.
Being in Colombia has shown me that it’s OK to try out lots of different things. It’s taught me that I’m tougher than I thought I was. It’s given me the courage to try to write and explore a variety of options. I’ve stopped thinking about my future as this big, all-defining thing. I still worry about my future; I think everyone does and always will. But right now it feels more important to live in this often strange present and see what happens there.
For all you lost people out there, I hope you know you’re not alone. I hope you can surround yourself with people who will support you in this time of uncertainty. I hope you know your indecision and various endeavors don’t make you lesser than the ones who seem to have it all figured out.
I’m an advocate for not knowing what you’re doing. I think being confused builds empathy. And I think when we find what we’re looking for it will be all the more special.