February 19th, 2021
Senior year in college/university — a moment that we anticipate years in advance. But has this moment been all that you had imagined? Has 2021 changed your plans entirely? Did you really have any plans in the first place? Are you starting a career that you’ll enjoy for the rest of your life or are you hanging in the balance between job security and living a purposeful life?
As a senior that will be graduating from university in a few months (spring 2021), I’ve regularly been hearing these questions brought up by my friends and I have been asking them to myself at times. While these questions require deep self-reflection; in this post, I’ll provide advice for graduates that has helped me to navigate the unknown aspects of this chapter in my life.
The Maze of the Unknown
When I think about the time that we are living in right now, the saying “can’t go over it, can’t go under it, must go through it” comes to mind. Just like a maze, there is a great degree of unknown in the world right now; so why not approach the situation in the same way you would a maze.
There are Many Paths on Your Way to Getting Through
If you’ve ever been to a maze, one thing becomes clear fairly quickly; that is, everyone takes their own unique approach to solving it. Personalities and problem solving abilities really shine in these environments.
There are some people that are quickly frustrated by the lack of direction and others that take their time strolling through the maze. Some people solve the maze very quickly by matter of chance or luck, others by close attention to detail; while many take hours to get out of a maze due to frustration or lack of determination.
What I find the most interesting is to observe the emotional state of those at the end of the maze. More often than not, the ones that didn’t rush the process seem to enjoy themselves at the end, while the frustrated few that attempted to solve the maze perfectly and the fastest end up tired and drained from what was supposed to be a fun activity.
When it comes to advice for graduates, I think a lot can be said about accepting your own unique path. Some students will be already working or will have jobs lined up that they thoroughly enjoy (the fast maze solvers by chance/luck or close attention to detail). Others are unsure of what lies ahead for them and so they choose not to seek opportunities (the strollers). While many are hanging in the balance, trying to plan things perfectly but often getting frustrated by the lack of direction (stuck in the maze). And so the question becomes, who are you? If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance that you feel stuck in the maze and not sure of what lies ahead or you are strolling through and going at your own pace. If so, this time that we are living in should be viewed as an opportunity; a chance to remain open to the possibility of what might be around the next corner. All the while, accepting the reality of life as it is and not being overwhelmed by the lack of direction that you may be feeling.
Simply put, there are many paths on your way to getting through. You have to be willing to explore the unknown, in order to see the other side. And to manage your health and wellness while doing so you should not allow frustration to cloud your judgement.
Going Backward Will Land You Where You Started
When people hit the point of frustration in a maze from feeling lost and without direction, the idea to back track often comes to mind. While back tracking may help someone to find their way out, I have yet to meet a person that is completely satisfied with themselves after giving up when things got tough. Even more troubling — the feeling of not knowing persists. That person may have been one right turn away from solving the puzzle.
Herein lies the problem with giving up too soon; you never know what could have been. As a runner, I’m all too familiar with this concept. I’m regularly confronted with this question at the end of a 1500m race: “30 seconds of pain or a lifetime of regret”. I’d like to say that I always choose the pain in races and in practice, but that wouldn’t be a true statement. The reality is that it is human nature to want to take the easy way out. But when you reframe it, a lifetime of regret will always be more difficult than a brief period of suffering.
So, if you have hit a point of frustration due to a lack of life direction and you are finding yourself falling back into old habits, take a moment to ask yourself if you’d regret not trying something new, pursuing an interest, or staying the course and having some faith. In other words, my advice for graduates is to always keep moving forward, even if you don’t know what lies ahead. Because going backward will land you where you started and worse yet, with the regret of giving up too soon.
You’ll Never Get Out if You Stop at Dead Ends
Finally, we come to our last group of maze solvers. The ones that decide to stop at a dead end and hope that they can follow the next group that comes along. These, I view as the most troubling as they are willing to cheat their way through by opting out of solving the maze themselves.
This isn’t to say that help shouldn’t be taken in certain situations. In fact, I would encourage being open to help, as the quote by Job Kabit-Zinn mentions at the top of this post. But there is a huge difference between free riding and being receptive.
When it comes to graduating from college or university, many colleagues start on new career paths and will appear to have everything figured out; this assumption is false. It is wrong to follow in someone else’s footsteps to what appears to be an easy way out. In these circumstances, my advice for graduates is to choose not to follow the crowd. You’ll never attain a life of total fulfillment if you decide to take the dead end job or the easy way out, while remaining closed off to other possibilities. Otherwise stated, you’ll never get out if you stop at dead ends.
Advice for Graduates: Stay in the Maze & Explore the Unknown
What I’ve been carrying with me throughout the unknown aspects of this chapter in my life is the concept of staying in each day and each moment, without thinking too far ahead. The pandemic has reminded me how unpredictable the future is, so instead of acting like I have everything figured out, I’m choosing to accept not knowing. I’m choosing to take each day as it is and for all that it is. I’m allowing myself to be open to opportunities by charting my own path, always moving forward, and never taking the easy way out.
So, with the metaphorical maze in mind, my best advice for graduates is to stay in the maze and explore the unknown. Always choose the 30 seconds of pain over the lifetime of regret and never allow yourself to stress over what other people are doing.
Stay in the maze and explore the unknown, because the only path to a life of fulfillment is through.
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