The “What’s next?” question has been trending lately. I hear it every day from myself, I hear it frequently from my friends who have just graduated from college and are deciding what their next adventure will be, and I hear it occasionally from my curious parents.
There’s a familiar déjà vu to this question, and I recently realized it’s because I remembered hearing it all the time when I was about to graduate from high school (maybe even more so than when I was about to graduate from college). It’s the ultimate “transition question.”
When I was eighteen and still deciding what to do with my life, being asked “what’s next” used to bother me. I was so concentrated on giving people the “correct” answer and validating a decision I hadn’t even made yet.
This question has begun is popping up again and I’ve decided that I need to shift my perspective. Instead of feeling limited and rushed by the question, I’m trying to let it guide and focus me. I might not owe myself the perfect answer, but I owe it to myself to put in the effort to figure out the next step out.
Figuring out the next step has meant looking at all possible options. What can I do now?
If you have enough money saved and are figuring out what to do, consider what activities and groups you gave your time to without getting anything in return except enjoyment. Did you work at an animal shelter? Help feed the homeless? These might be passions of yours and great stepping-stones for deciding what your next chapter will be.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to study abroad or travel for any other reason, now is the time! You’re less likely to have permanent responsibilities that motivate you to stay in one place. Traveling might be the best way to cleanse your life palate and inspire you to make your next leap of faith.
Apply (and apply and apply and apply) for jobs
It’s easy to get discouraged. Remember when you were applying for part time jobs in high school and then to different colleges and again for internships during the summer? Applying doesn’t get easier, but you can get better at it. Grab your old resumes and spruce them up. Use old cover letters to refresh your memory. Talk to peers and teachers about opportunities they might know about. Make Google and The Muse your best friend. You have the tools in front of them – utilize them and don’t stop until you have offers coming at you!
Where you’re starting a journal or a diary or a blog, just write. Write things down so that 1) you can get all those emotions of being free but lost out on paper 2) you can document this amazing time in life and read back and remember it all. When you use writing as an outlet you never know who might be reading.
Return to your roots
Don’t be ashamed or afraid to go home. It’s not taboo. I repeat, it is not taboo. If you’re fortunate enough to have a home to return to when you’re finished with school or in a transition period, throw that into the opportunity pot. You never know how your new brain and new eyes might interpret a place you once thought you knew perfectly. Just like you, other places and other people grow and develop. Don’t ignore that growth.
Continue your education
If you feel like you’re not done with school, don’t be. There are so many things you can do and sometimes having that degree can catapult you to the next level. Whether you’re aiming for med school, law school, business school, clown school, the sky’s the limit.
Just like traveling, right now might be the time to take a huge risk. If you haven’t found a job yet or you’re in between gigs, take advantage of this open time and make something you wish you’d had growing up or start something you really could use.
Chances are you have a friend or two from your past that you haven’t seen or spoken to in a while. While this might be the most informal idea on this list, it’s still a great reminder to utilize the network you’ve built throughout your life. When people propel in different directions you never know what kind of golden nuggets they might be able to offer you (or that you can offer them!) when you reconnect.
It’s up to you what to do next, just like it’s up to me. The trick (and sometimes the hardest part) is to just do something, even if it means going to the gym regularly or pursuing an interest. Motivate yourself through action and you’re bound to land someplace good. So, what’s next?
Image: Jay Mantri