by Victoria Contreras
Over the past year, as I look forward to graduation day, I’ve gotten used to hearing the question, “So, what’s the plan after college?” I know people mean well, but after a while, it’s easy to hear it as a polite way to ask, “So, what are you going to do with your life?”
Naturally, I respond with some well-crafted answer that reflects my persistence and determination to pursue a successful career– an answer that really makes them believe that I know what I’m doing. The problem is, I don’t know what I’m doing.
You see, so far, the student life has been predictable to the point where even the unpredictable has become predictable. Three years in, I know what to expect. I know when my next paper is due. I know that my friends are only a few steps away. I know who this version of myself is.
In college, there are almost no unknowns. But, in life– now, that’s different story.
My time at Northwestern has become comfortable, and the idea of leaving and not coming back is unnerving. What will my place be out in the real world? Who will I be? What am I going to do with my life?!
I began to question myself: “Didn’t you just spend three years working toward a degree in psychology so you could become a therapist? Isn’t that what you want? What do you mean you don’t know what you’re doing?”
But then I realized what happened: Life happened. I’m not the same person I was when I showed up for freshman year. I’ve changed. Since then, I have set aside the shyness of my childhood, and because of that, I got to know so many wonderful people.
I’ve gotten to know myself through my experiences, too. My resident-assistant work brought me a love for building community. My professors helped cultivate a passion for diversity, social justice and inclusion. And the arrival of my little sister – now almost two – reminded me of the importance of family.
Acknowledging change within myself was simply the first step in tackling this fear of the unknown. The next step was to figure out what I really wanted out of life.
When I say I don’t know what I’m doing, it doesn’t mean I don’t know what I want to do. But there are so many career paths I could take, and I fear that by choosing one, I’ll limit myself down the road.
That fear followed me into my summer internship, so I made a point of asking the professionals who crossed my path about their journeys after college. I wanted to know how they got to where they are today.
To my surprise, they didn’t know what they were doing back then either, and some even told me that they still don’t. Some people had studied something in college that they never ended up using; some found a passion, years after college, that they decided to pursue further; and some people are still building and even changing their career paths today. The people I admired as examples of what “getting it right” looks like turned out to be just like me!
Did that mean I was getting it right?
I shared my fear with one woman. I told her that I was struggling with choosing a path for myself because I didn’t want to look back years later and realize I picked the wrong one. As I spoke, she looked at me compassionately, as if she had experienced and conquered the same fear, and said that no matter what I choose to do after college, as long as I put my faith in God and God’s plan for me, I will end up where I am meant to be.
That one piece of advice has made an enormous difference for me. It made me acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers, and that’s all right. I don’t need to. What is meant to be will work itself out. As long as I pursue opportunities that make me happy and serve others, I can’t go wrong.
September 19, 2017, will be my last first day of school, the first day of my senior year of college. It’s bittersweet, but I plan to enjoy it. With graduation approaching, I need to appreciate every one of these moments like it’s my last – because this time it will be. I look forward to starting this new year at ease with myself, my abilities, and my future. Senior year, I’m comin’ at ya!
1. How do you grapple with an unknown future?
2. What does your path look like?
3. Where are you on this path and how do you lean on your faith throughout your journey?
4. What is the best piece of advice someone has given you about your future?
I put my faith in you and the path you have laid out before me. I may walk without the knowledge of where I’m headed, but I know that I walk with you. Amen.
Victoria Contreras is a senior at Northwestern University studying psychology, legal studies, and gender studies.
Photo of rocks and lake on the campus of Northwestern University, by Eric Fredericks. Used with permission. Photo of back of woman by Yaoqi Lai.