Imagine you’ve spent all this time pouring over a map; its hundreds of routes crossing and intersecting in a tangled web of possibilities. After much deliberation, endless nights of tossing and turning, and having finally learned how to distinguish a passing cramp from your gut’s instinct, you’ve actually managed to pick one path to brave. You feel relieved! Excited! And maybe a little bit nervous. But that’s okay. Feeling all there is to feel, you set out on your chosen route with an awesome playlist queued up and the sun shining through your car windows, going at the pace which makes you happiest. All of a sudden there’s someone running out into the middle of the road. You slam your breaks and realize it’s…your fifth grade science teacher holding a “wrong way” sign?
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” they shout. You beep your horn until they reluctantly move to the side of the road. When you look in your rear view mirror, you catch them watching you driving away, shaking their head back and forth.
Weird. You turn the music up to drown out the odd little alarm that’s beginning to sound in your head.
As you keep driving, you begin to realize that an odd assortment of friends, family and acquaintances have been building up on what had appeared as wide and open roadside. Some are shouting, some are holding signs; all have an opinion. Driving faster makes them appear to be nothing more than smudges of color, yet their presence is there all the same, making the strength of your certainty diminish as the miles pass. The gas in your tank is rapidly depleting, drop by drop. It’s gone. Your car is officially stopped in the middle of the road and the crowd has already begun to swarm.
At first, you’re happy about the faces you see. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, coworkers – they’re all there. Yet as their words reach your ears your calm demeanor is completely dismantled.
“Might be wrong…”
“Look into this…”
“Do this instead…”
“When I was your age…”
“Go back to school…”
“You don’t need a master’s…”
As the advice floods you, you find yourself sinking low into the driver’s seat and your eyes closing. You had felt so upbeat about this road when you set out and now you have no idea what you’re doing, where you’re going or who to listen to.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is. We all come to a series of crossroads in our lives and more often than not, there’s usually a group of bystanders ready and more than willing to toss advice and opinions our way. While this can be a great and welcomed wealth of information, it also runs the risk of becoming overwhelming and horribly confusing. Naturally, those who know and love you will only want what’s best for you. But what’s considered best to Grandma may not be what your dad might advise. Or what you yourself had in mind. On one level, you want to do something that will make all those who’ve helped you to grow up proud, and on the other you want to do what will make you happy.
It’s understandable that people want to try to guide you onto a certain path. In today’s society, there’s the stereotypical notion of how everything should play out. If life were simple and everyone was the same, we’d follow a similar route. Go to school, immediately find a job, find a spouse, have some kids, raise a family and retire. However, life is not simple and not everyone is the same. We’re a diverse population of people and what is one person’s idea of how to approach life could be drastically different than the person standing next to them.
As a recent college grad, I know firsthand the pressure to have it all figured out. The last few months of school, you were hard-pressed to find more than a handful of people actually capable of living in the moment because they were so consumed by trying to figure out what was coming next. Every conversation seemed to revolve around resumes and reference letters. For a lot of graduates, it didn’t matter what field the job was in, it was a job, a “real-life grown up” job. (Side rant – this whole notion of real life only starting once you’re working a 9-5 is so absurd; what has everyone been doing the rest of the time?) It seemed like so many people felt the need to squash themselves into this cookie-cutter mold of the next step. Flash forward to six months after graduation and some have settled well into their eagerly sought after jobs and are totally happy, others are hating them, some are still searching and some have chosen to go a less traditional route.
I’ve been less traditional, a few of my friends have been less traditional, and life’s been a little weird, but by no means bad. The one thing we have in common is that we’re endlessly being asked by everyone (literally everyone, the patrons we wait on, the students we sub for) “what’s the next step?”. But guess what? We’re in the next step. Some of us are working odd jobs to support travel funds, others are opting to go straight back to school; some are volunteering for a year, learning new skills and settling back into their parents’ homes to save a few bucks.
Our roads are unconventional, but they’re roads nonetheless. We’re still on our way somewhere, we’ve just chosen to avoid the interstate and are instead taking some lesser seen, maybe sometimes odd, back roads in order to get to a place we’ve really got our hearts set on seeing. Our company on the road isn’t just made up of recent college grads – it’s a huge compilation of all types of individuals. People who discover a new dream 20 years into a career, people who sought educations outside classrooms, people who decide they want to dedicate their lives to academia, people who don’t want kids, people who wanted them very young, people who want to live their life literally on the road and people who want to remain steadfast in the place where their roots originate. The list is open, endless and nonexclusive. All of the different roads out there, highways included, make up one incredible and diverse map. Create your point of interest and go.
People may push for you to take a certain road and you can’t fault them for it or get mad or frustrated. Deep down you know it’s all well intended and possibly coming from their own experiences – things they wish they had done, hadn’t done. Yet you have to experience life for yourself in order to learn from it, and when it comes down to it, you have to be your own navigator. Maybe you’ll make a wrong turn here or there, but it’s better to have scratched your itch than to wonder what lay down the path unknown. Take a direct course, a well-traveled path or a winding and twisting trail – just make sure it’s the one YOU want. Follow your internal instinct and do what is best for you. Change direction if you want or need to, and know that when you seek it, guidance will come to you from your family and friends. There’s nothing wrong with a GPS system, but don’t allow it to drown out your trail blazing instincts. Your life is your road to make.