What's Next?

Diary of a senior who doesn’t have an answer yet


Photo by Alex Wyatt.

I’m now within the second semester of my senior year of college and I don’t know what I’m doing after school. While every paper surface in my room and backpack is heavy with maybes, grand ideas and hopes and options, I have no set plan. There is no job or place that has beckoned me practically, convincingly enough to stick. So now what?

It feels like from where I sit, I am conducting a constant unintentional census, or am accidentally playing a part in some kind of survey; if I reveal my standing to anybody, as the token Senior In College With No Concrete Post-Grad Plans in the room, everyone has a perspective to show me. Almost as if they had been waiting this whole time for somebody to ask — it is a standpoint that everybody is willing to spew — just ​what​ should I do? Maybe the people around me have found it such a fun playing space because it's an incredibly high-stakes query, with virtually no impact on their own universe. My stakes.

At any rate, I appreciate any passerby or loved one who has peered into the chaos to offer their own two cents. How lovely if I could finance my own life or education on such pithy funds. Little did the general public know (and little did I also know in the moment) that I was collecting data. Here, the findings of my accidental research:

Turkey Day

I am sitting on the back porch of my childhood home in Jacksonville within the gentle tension of impending Thanksgiving dinner. I’d come out here just to wait out the turkey smoking in my dad’s new grill, exploring that idea we all seem to harbor that a watched pot will in fact boil faster, when my grandad squeaks onto the wicker bar stool next to me and shakes me from my turkey reverie. “So I understand that this is your last year of school, then, huh?" I respond with a small smile and a small shrug, as noncommittal of a reply as I could pull from myself. A breeze travels through and underscores the conversation with smoking meat. “Well, it’s important to get on that.” He settles in, turning towards the lake facing our backyard, disregarding my slowly shrinking frame. “You’ve got to be on top of it, make sure you reach out to your professors or anybody you’ve worked with in the field — that’s how I got to know people in the industry because I was making appointments, staying alert, getting my name known.” I continue my routine of small smiles and small shrugs to ineffectively communicate that I don’t want to talk about this today. 

I am saved by charred turkey smell. Charred, charred turkey smell, my god what is that turkey smell. Out of my right periphery my dad opens up the lid of his beloved big green egg embarking on its cardinal mission. I can hardly keep from engaging entirely in this periphery narrative: my father being affronted by a wave of meat-smoke, cursing the smoke, the meat, the egg, waving his spatula frantically, my grandad still fruitlessly talking over the chaos until he notices the turkey narrative too. He sighs, looks at me, then back to the lake, and says, “Just pretend it tastes good even if it doesn’t.”

Charlotte and the Sky

I am speaking to my friend Charlotte outside an event, under a foreboding Columbia Saturday sky, about what the future is and what it isn’t. She talks of alternate lives apart from desk job eternity, of teaching English in Korea, how it is not for the faint of heart, how I am hopefully not faint of heart. I tell her I do not know, but that I don’t think so. She told me that everybody has different priorities and that it doesn’t work when we all try to grade our lives on some two-dimensional scale, and reiterated the golden sentiment: that nobody has it figured out. Nobody has it figured out. Ultimately we decide that nobody can decide for me. 

When I inquire about any of her life decisions made, she simply and clearly tells me that she did what her heart wanted. Her eyes flit towards mine and away. If she’d been holding a cigarette she would’ve flicked it at that moment, as she turned on her heel to walk back inside, and tossed to me “I guess you just gotta figure out what that heart wants.” I stood outside as a wave of dense, anticipatory storm wind parted my hair in the other direction. I sweat in yet another outfit just a little too warm and hopeful for a Columbia January.

Drip in 2020

On the first morning of 2020, I woke up in a ray of sun and the stark realization of the speed of my life. One of those ever-familiar moments of blinking into a new day, realizing and re-forming life and its structure and expectations, shaking off waves of dream and our lost wants and wanderings of sleep. On this particular morning, all of the years leading up to the current one felt as if they were compiled into one long, convoluted dream I was waking from. I was opening into something entirely new. I moved my day forward, I parted the curtains and put on my shoes and boarded my bike with no real intention of where I was going.

After having landed, semi-confusedly, in the sunny glass box that is Drip on Main St, the owner, Sean, walked up to my table. I’d mentioned to him before that it was about to be my last semester, that my circumstances had been feeling ever-daunting — but as he stood in the sun, in that moment of him in the window, I realized that he was wearing all blue, I realized how very blue and bright it was outside, I realized how safe and encouraged I felt within that sweet new morning sun. How little I had to fear. He did what I think everybody has meant to do, and he encouraged me. Ten minutes or so of pleasant, present bliss— one open and truthful dialogue to precede the unknown. He never went to college, he approached his life in retrospect— and his future in hope — through a lens of exploration and intention. “Nobody has it figured out” he notioned, with a little nod of self-approval and a bright parting warmth, leaving the window to frame the wild beauty.

Senior year is a practice in perspective and in expectation. So much of it I am finding is informed by fear, by competition; there is a certain aspect of me publishing my lack of concrete plans that feels undoubtedly like admitting defeat. I am finding, however, that no talk about the future has given me the insight, joy, or peace that is being presented to any one of us right now in the precious present moment, in the silliness or starkness of the turkey-burning impending-storm moment. I’m not heeding any reader to ignore future planning— but rather noting that this entire clumsy and lengthy process of assessing post-school living has reminded me the depth of perspective within every person around me, the importance of asking each other questions and staying for the answer, the importance of watching and enjoying the spontaneous and unforeseen Now. This is not at all what I expected to find, but I am working to douse my expectations anyway.

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