I don’t know where I’m going to be living in three months after I graduate, or what I’m going to be doing.
The Monday before spring break, I completed my senior thesis and my senior ski season within 24 hours. To say the least, my time is structured a lot differently now, and this sometimes terrifies me: Am I applying to enough, and the right, jobs? Am I going to keep letting my schoolwork slide because I feel like I have more time to do it, so I do it more slowly and still end up behind? My prescribing nurse at the school clinic told me that individuals with anxiety disorders (like myself) often feel extra afraid and overwhelmed in the face of change and restructuring in daily life, and, honestly, I think lots of non-anxiety-disordered people do, too. We worked through elementary and middle and high school to get to college, but what comes next? A grungy New York apartment? Mom’s basement? Two kids and a picket fence? Fame and fortune? A collapse of everything we’ve once known?
What helps is remembering that “what I’m going to do with my life” is a collaboration of many elements and phases, not a solitary destination. What I do with my life is the sum of everything that composes each stage I go through, because what I “do” with my life includes not only my job but also my leisure and hobbies, my interpersonal relationships, and the ways I live by my personal ethics on a daily basis. What I’m going to do with my life will ideally include having my own dog, and, if all goes well, it will allow me to spend a lot of time around trees and big clear skies while also giving me a productive, satisfying, and rewarding day job.
What I’m going to do with my life will come in phases, the first ones probably more weird and uncomfortable before I figure things out, and I am trying to acknowledge this as much as possible, until it goes fully from a scary ambiguity to a reassuring fact that opens up opportunities for change and improvement. I was very anxious about going back to school during one of our breaks my sophomore year of college (honest fact check: I don’t even remember which), feeling like I wasn’t doing well enough at the things I ambiguously felt I was “supposed” to be good at. Ah, yes, another fun and healthy anxiety-driven internal monologue. Then, I picked up the copy of the “Bob Dylan Chronicles” that floats around the couple bookshelves of my family’s home.
As I sat on my parents’ couch in my JV Swimming sweatpants from eighth grade, book open in my lap, I was immersed in the world of a young Bob Dylan who loves folk music so much that he travels alone to New York City and floats between various people’s couches, spending his days researching, writing songs, and eventually performing. Here’s a guy who was propelled to success, whether you enjoy his work or not, entirely by his own desire to immerse himself in his art, which eclipsed his ability to follow what was considered a normal course of action (i.e., finishing school and getting a normal job).
With fewer than two months left, I’m not here to say, “Let’s all drop out of school and buy used guitars.” That’s ridiculous, and an awful use of tuition money and/or scholarships. Also, it’s 2016, and it’s becoming harder and harder to find people I can talk to about Bob Dylan outside of retirement homes. Still, during sophomore year, good ol’ Bobby D reminded me to chase the art, to determine my course of action by striving for what feels fulfilling and worthwhile. I returned to school and stopped comping clubs that made me uncomfortable. I started reading contemporary books for fun again. I started writing on my own time more often. I stopped feeling like the ways I didn’t mesh with some of the values promoted in the culture around me was not a sign that I am less intelligent or “wrong,” but just that I have something different to offer, and that I should start looking for it in different places. I started writing and editing book reviews, and I eventually took a publishing internship.
To all of us leaving one phase, about to enter a new one: Every separate piece of each day is what we “do” with our lives, regardless of where we are. Sometimes this feels ominous to me—the flip-side of “a lot of areas in which to success” is “a lot of areas in which to totally bomb and let everybody down,” as my anxious brain likes to remind me. So I’m trying to teach myself to lay down the good bricks. I try to be a good listener whenever I can, and get things done on time. I try to take the little steps for personal well-being, like exercising, and eating things outside my personal food pyramid of coffee, ice cream, and Ibuprofen. I also am trying to cultivate well-being by telling myself that things I read, visit, listen to, have conversations about, try, or explore just for fun, are also productive, because they are broadening the scope of what I have exposure to and try to understand.
I’m going to start the next phase of my life post-graduation with a nice morning run and some breakfast. As of now, that’s the only plan I have, and right now that feels okay.