It’s the spring semester of my senior year. While I have another semester waiting for me in the fall, most of my friends don’t; by September, they hope to be settled into jobs, fellowships, or graduate schools. My non-senior friends are starting to fret about summer internships and employment. It’s a stressful time for all of us, but most so for those of us who haven’t yet figured out our “direction.”
In college, the pressure to find your purpose is practically omnipresent. From orientation questions like “What’s your major?” to your family’s concerned “What will you do with that degree?”, there is a constant focus on future: where you’re going and where you’ll end up. As a result, when you don’t have your life mapped out (or even a sense of which way is north), you feel hopelessly lost; or worse than that, like a hopelessly lost cause.
This is one of the downsides to American culture. Life here, at least in the academic bubbles in which I live, is seen as linear. You are born, go to school, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, and die. It’s a progression from A to B to C, and if you get a little lost in between the letters, you’re doing it wrong.
Lucky as I am to come from two cultures, I know that’s not the only way.
Life in the Netherlands is rounder than in the United States. You may get a degree, but it doesn’t need to lead straight into your career; for example, my partner’s father has a degree in linguistics but now works in technology, and my silversmith aunt has an unfinished degree in Mandarin. Life can happen in any number of directions, and major life events can happen out of order. Whether you agree with that approach or not, it seems to work for us; 85% of Dutch people are satisfied with their lives, and Dutch children are the happiest in the world.
For me, that open-ended understanding of life is just how it should be. So I’m here to tell you, if you’re in college and you have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going, that’s okay.
This stage of your life is not necessarily just the next building block in your climb to success. It may be a time for you to figure out who you are, or what you want. It may be a time to explore different disciplines and life experiences. And while college culminates in a degree, that degree doesn’t need to dictate the rest of your life.
When I was a senior in high school, I thought I wanted to be a politician or a lawyer. By the time I started college, I wanted to be an academic. Now, I’m making a full-time income blogging and writing creative devotionals, which I’m sure I could never have expected when I started college. And who knows where I’ll be in five or ten years? Who knows what I’ll be doing?
I certainly don’t. And I’m making my peace with that.
You don’t need to know where you’re going to learn, grow, and contribute to the world. The vast majority of the time, our predictions are wrong and our plans don’t come to fruition. So if you have a master plan, great. And if you don’t, that’s fine. Just keep trying new things and moving forward. You’ll end up where you need to be, in the end.