Life after college allows what school did not: the ability to call it quits.
With pride, I remember telling my cohorts during my sophomore year of university that I had never skipped a college class. “Like ever ever?” They asked, astounded at the possibility that someone could stand to attend Speech 101 Monday, Wednesday and Friday for an entire semester. I shrugged my shoulders, as if to say, “Yeah, but no big deal,” before actually saying, “Yeah, but no big deal,” and we all went on our merry way, their heads shaking and my pride swelling.
Two years and many skipped classes later, I sit writing in my bed a month after graduating university. I went into the summer with plans of grandeur including (but not limited to) getting more involved with sewing, hiking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, seeing my favourite band in concert, finishing my novel, starting another novel, days spent reading, nights spent laughing, mornings spent drinking coffee and planning more Instagram-worthy moments before I was set to depart for Israel and beyond this coming August.
The thing about life after graduation is that school – along with all of its rules and deadlines – simply doesn’t exist anymore.
There is no professor to look disappointed as you ask for an extension on a paper, no looming red FAIL etched in your mind as you cram for an important test, no assignments, no homework, no syllabus, no books, no studying, no direction. And while I knew all of this and looked at it as a stressed out college kid peering into some definition of freedom, the reality of being pushed into a void that is yours to fill is quite the task.
This summer has since seen multiple unfinished projects: a half-hiked section of the Pacific Crest Trail, about a dozen six-page starts to novel ideas, a shirt with an unfinished hemline, another dozen books with a chapter or two read.
This is all coming from an ex-student who always had projects that preceded deadlines, papers teetering over the maximum page limit and a voracious appetite for learning and wholly understanding my lessons, so this somewhat chaotic start to summer has come as a bit of a shock. While it is tempting to try and rationalise this behaviour with euphemisms and half-believed statements about myself, I recognise that it is borne from a product of my direction-loving self. As a creatively inclined but strategically organised person, it has always been a struggle to try and marry together the two halves of myself without conflict.
I thrive on goal-oriented direction – I love finding the zigs and the zags of the maze in order to get to a well-defined destination. But give me a vaguely desired outcome for a project and I flounder. While in the office and the classroom, I can ask a boss or professor for more specificity when I feel like the outcomes are vague, I can hardly knock on life’s door and ask them to kindly clarify what kind of outcome they’d like to see by the end of this summer.
So, I did what had hard deadlines: I finished my novel and I hiked the parts of the PCT that I could. But all of my other passions lingered tantalisingly in the forefront of my mind, each one tempting me to pick them for my next laboured upon project. Ooh sewing! Oh, I’ve always meant to read that book… Yeah, a hike sounds fun! The lake? Even better. Hm, maybe I should pick up painting. Learning a new language can be achieved by watching strictly foreign films, right? How hard is it to get a work visa in the UK with a job offer?*
As can sometimes happen when I’m left without deadlines or specifically detailed outcomes and am given an endless possibility of passionate endeavours, I did a bit of them all. This sounded great at first but, while I had a ball trying to make a shirt one second and mispronouncing Champs-Élysées the next, the mounting pile of started-but-not-yet-finished projects began to make the once-so-organised student in me quiver. It made me realise that I was suddenly, for the first time in my seventeen years of education, the sole decider, constructor and pursuer of my trajectory in life. Not some school administrator or teacher or professor or manager or admissions officer or co-worker. For three months – months that I looked upon as my time to be free and adventurous and to explore – I became my own instructor, my own manager, my own co-worker.
With this realisation comes another: that I must use this precious time to decide for myself what matters, what is worth it, what specific things I want to see by the end of my self-managed months. While in college I was bound to the paid-for classes and grade-dependent deadlines, my time outside of university offers a seemingly sweet temptation: the option to quit.
It’s an enticing temptation to be sure, but my new boss would never allow it. She’s dedicated to finishing a couple of things.
*It’s really hard. Like, really really really hard.