I am just starting to get centered. My breathing is even, my lungs filled to their fullest capacity, and I am finally letting thoughts flow like the wind on a nice spring day, in and out. I knew I should have signed up for Zen meditation at 8 am on Thursdays. It was the perfect way to get my mind off of graduation, and well, the uncertain future. This is exactly what I needed! Ah, now it’s time to meet and greet these other “Zen” and “relaxed” folks, just by talking and touching hands. No eye contact. No visualization. How relieving and rejuvenating, soothing for the soul.
“So, Shannon, what are you doing after you graduate?”
Panic. Short. Breath. Want to open eyes but clasp them shut. Grit teeth. My first instinct is to use my hands to push this kid over and claim it was an accident because of the visual impairment.
“I’m not entirely sure actually…”
Then, I ran home and dropped out of Zen meditation.
If you’re a senior, these scenarios are common. You’re constantly pounded over and over by some slight variation of that same question, and if you’re anything like me, it causes a slight panic attack–What are you going to do? How are you going to use your degree to its full potential? Are you going to be making the big bucks? Are you actually going to “succeed?”
It causes anxiety, stress, and unrelenting comparisons. The competition is finally real–it’s the Hunger Games of after college life, and we all want to be survivors. We let the questions of the future divide us, splitting us into barbaric animals full of jealousy and angst. I know because I’m a part of it. I’m the werewolf–seemingly fine until conversations with the friends already making over $50,000, those on the road to law school, med school, and graduate school. Am I not as successful? Did I choose the wrong path? Is it a full moon?
But what if the future question is not meant to divide us into the haves and have-nots, the successful and the hopeless, the survival of the fittest and the soon-to-be extinct? What if, instead, it is meant to eliminate comparisons and light everyone’s individual journey? Since kindergarten, we’ve all followed the same, paved path. Our success was “objective,” defined by grades, how well we’ve done in school, our extra-curricular activities, and our honors. College has been no different–all majors have classes, are paying around the same amount, and we all reside within a two-mile block. The education system has manufactured us, has caused us to thrive on the “success” of outdoing our neighbor who has been given the same opportunity to score well.
However, after graduation, the tables will turn. We will determine our own success. We will be incomparable. How can a teacher be compared to a lawyer? A wandering adventurer to a financial analyst? An academic to an activist? They can’t. There is no more objective rubric by which to grade our journeys into the world. And this, my friends, is freeing.
I’m proud of my fellow classmates who will go on to medical, law, and graduate school. But, I’m also proud of my classmates who have chosen social work, teaching, and non-profits. I’m proud of my BU peers who will make millions of dollars, and those who will volunteer. I’m excited for every BU graduate’s plan to travel or spend time at home. And to those who want to enjoy a more balanced life of farming, waitressing, or the like, I am enticed by your journey as well.
The future is ours. This is our chance. No one can tell us how we’re doing. Society will try, implicitly putting some endeavors above others, but we should not, cannot, let the light of our own brilliance go out. We can’t let society define success for us, right when we’re at the breach of defining it for ourselves. All we can do is plunge into the mess that is our future, holding hands, and cheering.
(Photo credit: http://amna-emmy.blogspot.com/2012/05/rainbow-of-friendship.html)