The weather was perfect for my college graduation in 2005. The May heat rolled past and brushed my cheeks from the nearby Midwestern cornfields. Streaks of blue sky tangled and danced with puffy, full white clouds.
The day matched my sheer optimism. I could almost taste the anticipation in the air. As I walked across that long stage in the auditorium, my black gown hanging loosely at my side and my bright orange tassel dangling with every movement, I saw my Golden Ticket. It shown like a beacon of light in the distance. My VIP pass into adulthood.
After five years of living with my nose in a book and typing until my fingers became numb and sore, I instinctively felt like my life was just about to begin.
MORE JUICE AFTER THE JUMP…
That morning, as I held my diploma, I ran my hand over the smooth beige paper. It fe lt so light, yet carried so much weight and power for me. That afternoon, as my family and I feasted on salads and steaks and sipped on colas, I even felt older than I had a mere two hours ago, as if some carnal knowledge radiated off that diploma and coursed through my veins.
“Happy graduation,” my mother toasted me. “I’m so proud of you!”
Over the summer, well-meaning friends and family asked the inevitable questions.
“So, what are you going to do with your life?”
“Do you have a job yet?”
“Are you going to graduate school?”
And yet I couldn’t answer them. I was speechless. But I had that diploma, that piece of paper that says I’m a college graduate. Shouldn’t I have the rest of my life all planned? Shouldn’t that diploma do its magic and draw a road map for me?
I soon realized no matter how long I looked at the diploma, I wasn’t going to find the answers among the beautiful, artistic calligraphy.
Being a very practical and methodical person, college life suited me very well. I made neat lists. I always kept my syllabus on hand. And I made sure I satisfied each of my graduation requirements. Journalism law. Check. The history of journalism. Check. Advanced news reporting. Check.
So that’s why I naturally thought my post-college life would be set in stone. The Muses would work their magic, and my destiny would be all ready for me. Waiting for me at the end of that graduation walk. The perfect job. My soulmate. The perfect life. It would all magically fall into place. Just as if it were fate.
That next fall, I found myself staring at a white canvas. It was bare, without even the slightest scuffs or markings. Where were the lists?
Where was the road map? I looked ahead and all I saw was a gravel road. No sign. No directions. Not even an oasis in the distance.
College prepares you for a career; maybe it even gives you a newfound sense of maturity. But the one class they don’t offer in college is Life 101.
Here I am at 27, at the exact moment I thought the rest of my life would be beginning, and I was experiencing a midlife crisis of sorts. I was sure I wasn’t alone. Other graduates must have had the same preconceived notions I did. College diploma equals instant job and future security. You go from point A to point B in one fell swoop.
Thanks to a new trend dubbed the Quarter-life Crisis, I know I’m not alone. Experts are recognizing it as a developmental stage in which twentysomethings are faced with so many opportunities that they become easily overwhelmed, incapable of choosing among them.
Apparently, we as twentysomethings have high expectations for life. Is it these high expectations that leave us with a void, asking the profound questions over and over?
What do I want to do with my life?
Where is my place in the world?
Will I ever meet The One?
If only adulthood – and life for that matter – came with a handy syllabus. But there’s no instruction manual. There’s no connecting the dots like those coloring books of youth. There’s no road map, but you’re thrust into the position of navigator, forced to wrestle with uncharted waters and sometimes unfriendly skies.
Graduating college is like being thrust into the wild without a safety net. The savage wolves stare at you like prey, and while you try to run, to find something to grab onto, your feet are stuck in place and glued to the ground.
But eventually, as I’m slowly doing, you learn the ropes. You no longer need that syllabus. You can cut the chord knowing you’ll make it on your own.
Because adulthood, unlike college, isn’t necessarily about the destination. You’re not aiming to graduate and be handed a diploma for your completion of “life.” Instead, it’s about the journey. Sometimes you’ll lose your way, maybe even take a wrong turn down a dimly lit alley, but you soon realize you’re in charge of drawing the map. No one can do it for you. Visions of what you thought your life would be may not always reflect back perfectly with the reality.
And that’s OK.
I’ve since found my niche as a freelance writer, and I’m learning to live in the moment. My map is still unfinished, a few roads drawn without ends, but that’s the way it should be. I’m excited to write – and draw – the next chapter. Whatever that may be.