Congratulations, you are now in charge of your life

18 Jan

I just read a very cool article on LinkedIn written by a guy who has found himself in increasingly more interesting jobs due to his willingness to show up and work hard.

In it, he discusses the fact that throughout childhood, and generally all the way through college, our life paths are set out for us. There are goals and deadlines and if we just work hard we will succeed. Sure, some people step off this path and lead fascinating lives, but most of us chug straight through our educational years toward what looks a lot like a finish line.

And then, of course, we discover it’s not a finish line at all. This can feel utterly terrifying, because suddenly there is no path. There is no one telling you how to succeed (other than, perhaps, the vague “get a job”) and there’s no easy way to measure how well we’re doing and if we’ll achieve what we want. It’s really scary, even though it should be exciting.

Imagine, though, if alongside your diploma, you had been handed a certificate that stated, in the same big, fancy writing:

Congratulations, you are now in charge of your life.

Woah! All those years of a path to follow, that’s just another way of saying a hamster wheel to run on. You spent years building skills/endurance/smarts/etc. with the guidance of adults who were there to help you, yes, but also to tell you what to do.

Now, you’re free to use all that awesome stuff you built up in the first couple decades to construct your life however the heck you want.

Switch jobs, take a class in blacksmithing, move across the country (I’m a particularly big proponent of this one), live out of your car for a summer, date someone completely inappropriate, throw wild parties, start a business. Whatever you want.

I’ve only been out of college 20 months and already the path makes no sense in my rearview mirror (short version: internship in oil boomtown managing restaurants, move there “permanently,” convince college friend to join me, pack up both our lives and move to Minneapolis, work as a cubicle drone, make tons of swing dancing friends while re-connecting with a couple of acquaintances from long ago, lose my job, spend the summer unemployed/on vacation while road tripping solo, spend a couple weeks at my parents’ place, move back to my college town, get an apartment alone, start working in PR for a bank, find out the bank is getting acquired and won’t exist by the end of 2015). Phew! And that’s just the bird’s-eye-view.

The lack of a defined path is scary, but it shouldn’t freeze you in place just because you can’t see around the corner. For the first time ever, you can do whatever you want!

Where will I be five years from now? I have no clue. But wherever it is, I’ll have gotten myself there. The path may be gone, but the adventure is just starting.

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