Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"So, what's the next step?"

How many times in our lives have we all panicked about our future? About work, a place to live, where to live, expectations, family. There seem to be so many milestones in our life, so many times that we have to go, "Oh god - what am I doing next?" I don't know many people who constantly have it figured out. They're probably out there but I'm certainly not friends with them. You know who I'm talking about. The person who graduates on time, has the job lined up, the wedding date picked, and the baby room already painted. If I have to choose between yellow or green wall color, I think I'm better off not knowing.

And that's where I'm at in my life, as so many times before. What's next? Today I met with the president of my university to talk about my graduate research. Last summer she met me and said, "Let's talk." Finally, six months later we did just that. I sat down, gave a thirty second summary of my research, and she looked me in the eye and said "So, what's the next step?" I felt my mouth gape and my eyes search the wall behind her for answers. Framed certificates, academic posters, a window. Nope, I'm not going to find the answer there. "Uh - well..." I sounded like a complete idiot, so unprepared for this great opportunity. The rest of the meeting was a blur as I spoke like a politician, avoiding the question. All that I could think about, in the back of my mind, were her haunting words: "So what's the next step?" Next step for what? Today? My research? After graduation? That adolescent feeling of doubt and fear swept over me as I spoke empty words to the president, thinking to myself, "What is next?"

Think of the phrases you have heard so often: "when you grow up," or "the real world." Am I nearing those toll bridges in my life? Many of us Gen Y-ers are just entering the work world, just buying houses, or just getting married. They say "40 is the new 30," so does that make 30 the new 20? If so, I have a long way to go until I mature and feel ready to enter "the real world." If that's true, our generation is still finding itself, growing up, realizing that we don't want to stop learning or stop exploring. I don't think it's a sign of immaturity, just a sign of open-mindedness and a willingness to keep seeing the world with wide eyes. If that is how we will continue to live, then I'm not sure any of us will ever "grow up" or enter "the real world," as our parents used to put it. But frankly, as far as I'm concerned, that's ok with me. We'll figure it out together.

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