Daydreaming about next steps

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I graduated high school in 2017, meaning that most of my peers have recently graduated college. Many of them are moving on to new careers, graduate schools and various other paths. While comparison is the thief of joy, I can’t help but feel like I am falling behind.

As someone who’s about to be a rising senior, career search and design have been at the forefront of my mind. I can’t help but feel anxious as I’ve been meandering in school, dipping my foot in many spaces and feeling perplexed about my strengths.

In my first year of college, I thought I could do any job as long as the organization I worked for had a mission aligned with my values. This was when most of my work experience came from volunteering at various student groups. Since I picked the groups I dedicated my time to, the work was also enjoyable.

Now that I have some work experience under my belt, I learned that I have an extreme distaste for routine and administrative work. I’ve told myself that I want to lead a creative life, and perhaps that also means prioritizing a creative career, where I feel that what I do does matter.

I’m currently working in clean energy this summer. The work is intellectually rigorous, my supervisor is kind and I’m so grateful to have a job. Policy design and strategy is creative, but it moves slowly. I’m interacting with articles more than I’m interacting with people. So, I can’t help but wonder what another role, either in a creative company or a creative role itself, could look like for me. 

“What exactly does creativity mean for you?” my mentor asked me. 

My mentor’s wife works in advertising, where the crux of the business is about selling stuff. Yes, advertising is creative, but is that the kind of creative outlet I’m looking for?

There are many competing frameworks floating in my mind, and I’m uncertain how to move ahead in my thinking. I pan around my space, seeking inspiration from my belongings.

My 65-liter gray Osprey backpack lies softly against the table.

The most joyful and authentic moments of my life have all been spent outdoors. In nature, I’ve laughed till tearful, felt the most awe-inspiringly fit and connected with others over incredible moments. I want to be outside. 

I’ve thought many times about outdoor education. After all, it’s tough to imagine something better than merging two of my passions: youth development and being outdoors. In fact, I completed Bay Area Wilderness Training’s front country training for educators and received a summer job offer from a reputable outdoor education provider this summer.

Unfortunately, due to family obligations, I could not head into the mountains for the summer.

In my Osprey backpack, I spot a journal filled with my messy scribbled notes and the trace of a squished mosquito.

I’ve always thought that being a writer would be a dream as I love storytelling, reflecting and documenting my everyday life.

Since third grade, I’ve had numerous blogs, notebooks and stories. Stories help me understand myself and connect me to others.

Thinking about stories leads me to journalism. Journalism is an idea I flirt with from time to time. Funnily enough, my journalist friend advised, “Don’t do journalism unless you have no other path!”

I flip through the pages of my backpacking journal and read about my vivid imagination and the random ideas I put at the bottom of each page.

I read a note titled “my mind is an active volcano.” I write about wanting to be more humorous, building cardboard furniture and designing emojis around college mascots. 

Perhaps I can start something of my own. 

I feel grateful to have been inspired by so many interested and motivated individuals crafting their own paths. My friend M helps build a more empathetic world by teaching others communication skills. In the past, he’s taken people on bike rides, ran hotels in the mountains, started a creative consulting agency and done a million other things.

Maybe I could be a playful experimenter who writes musicals and throws dinner parties? 

Huh, I think I spy a theme. I just want to feel connected to myself, others and the world. 

I’ve pitched to M that perhaps a cool thing I’d enjoy doing is to be an event experience designer. M challenges me: “What’s stopping you?”

Talking through the steps to tangibly become an experience designer makes me realize I can do many things, and there’s so much to try in life. I don’t have to stick to one path.

Thinking about all of these options both exhilarates me and stresses me out. Exhilarating that there’s so much in the world that I am in awe of, stressful because I’m constantly thinking about the trade-offs between each option. 

Every day, I generate more questions and not enough answers to keep up. Maybe my desire for creativity doesn’t have to be satisfied through my work. Work can just be work. 

I remind myself: I am not omnipotent. I can do it all, just not all at once.

As much as I try to take each step with intention, I also trust in serendipitous encounters. I don’t know what will come next for me, and my life’s work is still a hypothesis in the making.

Shuge Luo writes the Wednesday column on creativity and belonging. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.