I graduated college… now what?

It’s quite easy to get accustomed to the easy-going lifestyle at UCSB. I mean, when the weather is great, the classes are intriguing, and the beach is (literally) in your backyard, it’s hard to find things to complain about. But then, June 16th comes around and all of the sudden, yesterday you were eating Freebirds nachos and playing beer die and today you are a college graduate. It sounds so official. Graduate. It’s definitely an accomplishment. We worked hard, we spent grueling hours at Davidson surviving solely off of Yerba Mate et al., and finally we shook hands with Chancellor Yang and then… it was over. We’re left sitting here thinking, “Well, time to be a ‘real’ adult now, I guess!” But in reality, there is no one “right” thing to do after graduation. There aren’t even ten “right” things to do. Everyone’s post-grad plans are slightly different, and for me, I’m choosing something a little less conventional.  

Head’s up: once senior year rolls along, prepare yourself to hear the question, “So, what are your plans after college?” approximately a million and one times. Sure, your grandma’s neighbor’s boyfriend’s friend might be genuinely interested in what you’re doing post-grad, but please don’t let this question cause you sleepless nights and unnecessary stress. The fact of the matter is, life is not a straight path. Discovering what you like (and really don’t like) are both parts of the process of finding meaning in your work. As Americans, we will spend an average of 90,000 hours of our lives working. That’s about one third of our entire lives. Now, that’s a whole lot of hours to spend doing something. It would be nice if that something was genuinely interesting and enjoyable!

As an employee at Career Services, I’ve gone to plenty of networking events, and when I approach CEO’s and entrepreneurs and ask them how they got to where they are today, the answer usually surprises me. Most describe their career “path” as more of an obstacle course of taking chances, falling, getting back up again, and figuring out unique solutions to get them to their end goal. Take my sister for example. She graduated from NYU and is currently guiding river rafting tours in Alaska. Having a blast? Check. Preparing to start a non-profit organization leading volunteer/adventure tours in developing countries? Double check. Maybe your teachers, parents, and professors have told you countless times the “right” way to get to where you “need” to be. But I’m here to say that there’s room for time to explore, adventure, and learn a little bit about the world (and yourself) before settling down at a 9-5 job.

So that takes me back to the question, “I graduated college… now what?” For me, my “now what” involves moving to Madrid, Spain, to teach English abroad for a year. Getting on a plane, moving 5,853 miles around the world, and starting a new life. Oh, and by the way, I speak at about a first grade level of Spanish. ¡Ay, Dios mío! Crazy? Maybe. Incredibly thrilling and exciting? Definitely. The thing is, if you want to build resilience, it’s not going to be easy. It might involve feeling nervous, and uncertain, and uncomfortable with the fact that you still cannot seem to roll your R’s. But at the end of my life, I want to be able to look back and think, “Wow. I really went for it, didn’t I?”

I know my life will not follow a straight path, and I’m happy about that. I’m facing this next obstacle with the confidence that a year from today, I will have gained cross-cultural intelligence, independence, and a love for siestas and tapas. Cheers to this obstacle course of life, and for following it wherever it may take you.IMG_4823

Lilly in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Lilly Erickson is a Marketing Peer at Career Services and recently graduated with High Honors from UCSB and received a B.A. in Psychology and Communication. This fall, she will be teaching English at a secondary school in Madrid, Spain through the Auxiliares de Conversación program. Her career goal is to be a marketing coordinator for a global non-profit, seeking to provide educational opportunities to students in developing countries.