When you’re in your final years of university, there’s one question you’ll be asked at least once a week, more likely once a day, and even more likely a few times a day: what are your plans for after school?
(I would love if we collectively decided on a better question than “What are your plans for after school?” but I digress.)
This constant question means that once a month, I call my mom & say, “Mom, I’m not answering the question of what my plans are for after school.” Because here’s the thing about being an almost graduate in a humanities program with too many passions to fit nicely into one career path or box: you may not have a nice, concise answer for what your plans are after school & you may get overly, irrationally frustrated when people keep asking a question you’re having a hard time answering.
To be fair, I'm guilty of doing this to everyone as well, particularly high school students & I cringe every time I hear myself ask this question. It does come from a place of curiosity - I just want to know all about what adventures everyone is going to go on! But when you're on the receiving end of the question & your future is an unknown, blank space (shout out to Taylor Swift!), it just becomes stressful & a wee bit anxiety inducing.
For a long time, I answered the question of what I was planning to do after university with an answer tailored to the person I was talking to: what would they best understand? What would they most want to hear? Would they think I’m more adventurous or super fearless if I told them I wanted to move far away? Would I elicit a more shocked response from them if I said I wanted to live in BC?
I'm also in a program that doesn't have a traditional title, isn't easily understood, & doesn't have a clear career path in the program title. It's a humanities degree, so we then begin the delightful battle of whether there's value in a liberal arts degree or only in professionally designated degrees (update: there's a lot value in my liberal arts degree, but that's another blog post for another day), & whether I'll actually be able to get a job after university. (My fingers are crossed & my resume is full!)
And then I would sometimes answer questions about my plans for a career but ignore all my other passions, trying to resign myself to the idea that there would be one career path for me only & I would stay on that career path for the rest of my life.
After a lot of fighting with myself, and a lot of my mom saying, “Hannah, people are interested in hearing about what your plans are for after school; they’re not trying to be mean or make you have a plan” - I became very comfortable & a lot less scared of saying, “I really don’t know.”
It’s strange being comfortable with an answer that has a tendency to make others quite uncomfortable. But I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again: I don’t know where I’m going to be in six months, & I’m okay with that. If you’re the type of person that can make a five year plan and stick to it, I am incredibly happy for you. But I didn’t know I’d be where I’m at now six months ago or a year ago or two years ago. If I had my way, my life would look so different than it does right now. All of my five year plans have gone out the window
This has been a freeing realization.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: the most honest answer I can give you when you ask about what my plans are after school is "I don’t know." (Okay, "crying in the fetal position while thinking of my crushing & crippling debt" is a wee bit more honest. . .)
That answer feels messy & scary to say, & my life doesn’t feel quite as figured out as I would like it to be. But I became a lot less anxious when I realized life will always be messy & scary & that’s okay. Hard & super shitty things are going to happen in the midst of beauty & it’s hard to reconcile how the hard stuff can co-exist with the stuff that takes our breath away. So right now, the most honest & comfortable answer I can give you is: I don’t know, because I really, truly, one hundred percent do not have an answer to questions about my future.
So here’s what I do know:
I want to love people like Jesus did; I want to help people tell their stories, whatever mixed up way we can; & I want to spread some joy around. I love the non-profit sector with my entire heart. I love volunteers & volunteering. I want to incorporate art and writing into my life on a more regular basis, and I’m not sure what that looks like. I like planning events and I think I’d be really good at fundraising, and I could see myself going back to school for that. I want to plant roots somewhere, I’m just not sure where. I like mentorship & working with children. I am feeling an immense itch to start volunteering again, because that’s where I feel totally fulfilled. I want to make people’s lives better. I am not sure I will follow one career path. However, I am pretty sure I’m going to live in squalor for a number of years to pay back OSAP.
So after all of that, let's take away some practical things to do, both for those asking the questions and those on the answering side of the questions.
Some advice for those of you asking about life after graduation: Every time you ask a student nearing graduation what they want to do after school, I dare you to pray for them. Or ask how you can intentionally pray for them. For their future. For God's leading; for His calling to be made abundantly clear; for their hearts to make known & glorify God's will. That's practical.
Or ask what makes their heart beat a little faster & think of something practical to assist them in that journey. Encourage them to volunteer somewhere.
Please: get creative in the questions you ask students.
& some advice for those of you in the storm of questions: you have your whole life ahead of you - your life doesn’t have to be figured out at 18. or 22. or whatever age you’re at. (Here’s a life secret a lot of people are not saying out loud: nobody’s really sure of what they’re doing, & a lot of people are still trying to figure out who they want to be when they grow up.)
Nobody means to stress you out when they’re asking the question - everyone is genuinely interested in what you’re doing.
Don’t apologize for the people, places, and things that make your heart beat faster; if you want to turn any of those passions into a job or career, don’t apologize for that either.
You have to focus on your own path. That means not tailoring your answers to the specific person you’re talking to & not being bummed out (for too long) about the person who has a guaranteed job the second they grab a piece of paper or the person in Europe with a backpack. Focus on your own path, not on the path of all those around you. Focus on the place God is calling you to be.
I know it's one small question that you could answer quickly, telling everyone what they want to hear. But it feels like a bigger question some days & the internal dialogue of, "What do I tell this person, why didn't I study business, they'd understand if I was studying business, did I just waste the last five years of my life, I wanted to do acting, why didn't I act, what if I don't find a job I love, oh no I'm going to spend the rest of my life in crippling debt ahhhhhh" is a wee bit suffocating.
So here's to the unknowns, the I don't knows, encouraging each other to focus on our own paths, & also: here's to brainstorming for a better question than, "What are you planning on doing after school?"