Figuring it out, 1 step at a time

I’ve always had a plan.

From the moment I started college, my four years were mapped out. I knew which requirements I’d fulfill when, where I would study abroad, when I would apply and participate in the UCDC program — I knew it all. My life was structured to the best of my ability through spring 2022. 

I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college — my career aspirations were hazy and practically nonexistent — but it didn’t matter. I’d have four very structured, well-planned years to figure it out. 

But, two years into my plan, COVID-19 happened. And suddenly, my original plan was no longer feasible.

So, I decided I would forgo the remaining off-campus studying and graduate in December, one and a half years before my four years at UC Berkeley were supposed to come to an end. 

But, if you ask me for my new plan, I won’t have an answer. I have no idea what I want to do. 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m excited to graduate. However, instead of having two more years to figure out what I want to do, I have a matter of months. Less, actually, because job applications will take time. 

When asked what I think my future will hold, I usually respond with what I don’t want, because it’s the only thing I’m sure of. I know I don’t want to go to graduate school right out of undergrad. I don’t want to be a journalist; I don’t want to run for elected office or work on a political campaign.

What I do want to do is a much harder decision. It feels impossible to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life at 20. I barely know what I like and what I’m feeling now, let alone what I’ll feel and want to do when I’m 30 or 40 or 50.

Unfortunately, December won’t wait for me to make up my mind, and my existential uncertainty doesn’t change the fact that in a couple of months I will be applying to jobs and preparing to go out into the real world. 

So, like my graduation plans, I have to adapt. 

The pandemic sucks, obviously. It takes traveling out of the question, since programs such as the Peace Corps are currently suspended and therefore a no-go, and a lot of businesses aren’t hiring because the economy is in trouble and everyone is struggling. COVID-19 is making the world and the list of possibilities feel a lot smaller. 

As a notoriously indecisive person, this might actually work in my favor, though. The pandemic, in all its uncertainty, requires that we just take everything one step at a time and choose one thing from its restricted list for the short-term. So, I’m going to do exactly that.

If there’s one sector that I’m qualified for that will (hopefully) have jobs available, it’s the government, and I’ll try to use the election as an opportunity for getting an “in” on a legislative position somewhere.

I’ll probably do that for a few years, until maybe the pandemic works itself out a little more and the world isn’t blocking Americans from entering other countries. And then, it will be time to develop another “right now” plan, whatever that may hold.

Maybe I’ll absolutely love working where I first start and stick with it forever. Maybe I’ll decide that what I start out doing isn’t for me and try something else. Maybe I’ll take some time off and travel. Maybe I’ll actually join the Peace Corps.

That’s all unknown, but it’s OK. I don’t need to choose the career path that I’ll stay on until I die or retire right now. After all, I’m only 20 and about to be newly out of college. It would be unrealistic to expect myself to have it all figured out. 

I’ve been told approximately 1 million times: College is for exploration. While this is true, it fails to consider the time after undergrad, which can be for exploration too. 

Just because I’ll technically be in the “real world” doesn’t mean that the next decision I make is the be-all and end-all. I don’t need to be drowning in readings, listening to professors lecture and paying tuition to explore and experience who I am and what I want to do. I can do that with an “adult job” too. 

Because of the pandemic, my four-year plan has kind of turned into a “right now” plan, and the pandemic, fires and countless other crises the world is facing right now are making my foreseeable future hard to predict. 

I can’t tell you what I’ll be doing the day after commencement, let alone in four years. But I can tell you that I’ll figure it out eventually, one step at a time.

Contact Kate Finman at [email protected].