Well, here we are. Another spring, another generation of kids getting ready to graduate from university and go on to… what exactly? For the first time in our young lives, the next step has not been predetermined for us.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” We’ve heard this question our whole lives. It seems that when you’re a child, all answers are satisfactory. It’s the only time in your life when you can say you want to be a dinosaur, a ballerina, Darth Vader or some hybrid of all three and all the adults smile at you, validating your curiosity in so many different areas. At some point as we grow up, that question becomes a sort of litmus test to measure your success as a growing adult. In high school, we were are asked what our majors would be. Strangely, we could only have one answer. If we give a 10-word reply, well intentioned adults would tell us that we couldn’t be an artist and an engineer — we’d have to pick one. The scrutiny seems even worse if you want to go into a field deemed to be “unstable,” such as music, fi lm, acting, etc. And so the nights of anxiety over the choice begins.
But why choose? Why are we asked what we dream we could be, but not ALL we could be? The idea of narrowing down all our potential skills and talents into one area is greatly prized in our culture: this idea of a destiny, a purpose in this life that will give us meaning and define our time on this earth. But not all of us are wired this way. Some us have many different passions and interests and committing to one career path feels restrictive and daunting. The truth is that not all of us can fi t into this framework, and this mind set only helps us feel like failures. Emilie Wapnick, a career coach, uses the term “multipotentialite” to describe someone with many different interests and creative pursuits. A “multipotentialite” will often find themselves very interested in a certain project or subject, explore it intensely, and then move on to something else. In our culture’s romanticized notion of “one true calling,” this multifaceted approach to life and a career can seem like a fault, a certain brand of immaturity one needs to overcome or grow out of.
Sure, in our early twenties, we’re considered to be biologically grown — it’s been hard accepting that this is as tall as I’ll ever be — but it certainly doesn’t mean we stop evolving. Humans are complex beings; why should our lives be reduced to one so called “calling”? Fear of the future will tempt us to shackle ourselves to a well-worn, preapproved path. Which is not to say this is wrong, well-worn paths are such for a reason — they can lead to good places, security, and success. But if you know that’s not for you, do yourself a favour and turn right around. If you came out of the womb wanting to be a doctor, do that — if you are a specialist at heart, specialize. The world needs skilled doctors, lawyers and businessmen. I do wonder, however, how many incredible directors, writers and artists the world missed out on because they are too busy hating their “secure” job as a financial analyst, something they were never wired to do but chose because it felt like a safe and respectable option.
Getting to a point where we accept both how we are wired and the uncertainty of the future is the hardest part. A lot of us will experience a sort of depression following graduation. Julia Frage, a psychologist based in San Fransisco, who treats young adults, says that “post grad depression is under reported because graduation is like motherhood: culturally seen as a seemingly joyful time, which makes it even more shameful for someone to admit that it’s not.” Specific studies about depression following graduation are hard to fi nd, as most studies on the 18 24 age group focus on multi ple causes of depression. It only takes a ten second google search, however, to find many personal accounts of the struggle of transitioning out of the years of a safe, supportive bubble that was university.
During this complicated transition, the trap all of us risk falling into is to compare ourselves on social media. There will be that one person who finds success relatively immediately, but they are the outlier. Most of us are in the same seemingly capsizing boat, frantically looking around seeing how we are faring compared to our peers.
Likely, we are trying to ascertain this through social media. Recent research suggests that millennials have the highest rates of anxiety and depression of any generation. Studies, including one carried out by the University of Pittsburgh, found an association between this anxiety and social media use. This is hardly sur prising; social media allows us to cu rate the lives we want everyone else to think we are living. So don’t believe everything you see online, and don’t assume you’re the only one struggling. Remember no one lives full time in an X Prof Filter.
Many of us at the end of this semester will be standing there, having reached the end of university, staring into the vast unknown that is supposed to be the rest of our adult lives. We can’t expect ourselves to know exactly what that will entail. There will be many times in our lives where we will need to re-evaluate and ask ourselves “where am I going?” and “what am I doing?” I once read that there are no stable jobs nor lives, but stable people, and that stable people are happy people. It seems like the most important questions to answer are “who am I?” and “who do I want to be?” Once we’ve got those two things figured out, we can take it from there. The future is undoubted lee terrifying, but hey, we’ve made it this far — we’ll be fine.