Why you shouldn’t be looking for a professional upside on your life decisions after college.

Sendai, Japan. (12 min read)

A rant on human behavior and life-lasting benefits.

The percentage of people graduating from college is steadily increasing every year. Although some of the latest economic successes led by college dropouts have made an impact on the mentality towards educational attainments, data reveals that trends are still on the rise. Almost 40% of the US population between the ages of 25 to 34 holds some type of post-secondary educational degree. While this percentage goes up to over 50% in countries like Canada or Japan. Looking at these data and with the experience of having been a recent graduate not so long ago, I felt the need to write about an aspect of post-university life that really troubles me these days.

Right after graduating from college everybody seems to be up for the world. We feel enthusiastic, resourceful, and open-minded; unceasingly seeking any opportunity that would make the effort worthwhile. We are thrown into real life blindfolded by a deep-rooted belief of entitlement after having worked hard for the last 4, 5, 6 years, and totally committed to make of the world a better place. At least, I felt that way.

“Now is when the real life begins” we used to tell to ourselves to make the scenery even more Homeric. However, for most, life doesn’t change that much. At some point between the epic narrative of our academic accomplishment and the present, we find ourselves devoting eight hours a day to a dreary job, having to deal with mortgages and loans, and spending the weekends raking leaves out of the porch and watching Game of Thrones. So I wonder,

what is it that make us change that promising envision of our own future for the latter?

I have come to realize that too often we choose the path that is predetermined or, even worse, expected for us to choose. Our environment, that is our family, friends, and the perception that we want others to have of ourselves, dictates in many cases the boundaries of our own decision making process. The outcome of which usually defines the easiest, often less intimidating, roads of should ( “The Crossroads of Should and Must” by Elle Luna). Breaking those walls and forcing yourself to look at a bigger picture never comes with ease.

Somewhere down the road we were told that our professional career should be the driving force of our decisions. Searching for the professional upside in almost every choice we make has become a common practice. This has generated a lot of misunderstandings among students who early on were taught to overvalue the consequences of their decisions. To get a better job, to get promoted, or to get a raise is often being perceived as the holy grail of everlasting success. A statement that couldn’t be more wrong.

By travelling the world I have come to realize that by doing the opposite, that is to diminish the professional upside and, as a consequence, to undervalue the effects that your life decisions have on your professional career, I have allowed myself the opportunity to live the most personal, emotional, and professionally beneficial experiences.

I have lived in incredible places, met amazing people, done the unimaginable and tried the unexpected. I have learned and I have grown. I keep learning who I am, what I like, and what I’m good at. I have talked to and met so many different people over these years. Through many conversations I have developed empathy for the unfortunate, admiration for the ordinary, and care for the miserable.

But, how can you do this? How can you break those socially imposed barriers and start to think on your own terms?

Well, let me tell you beforehand that I am not the most resolutive advice giver out there as I’m still figuring things out myself, but I can tell you what I’ve done so far and leave it up to you whether or not to give it a try.

I have simply made enough time to ask a few basic questions and granted myself permission to not be afraid of the answers. Questions such as: who do you want to become? How and where do you want to live? With whom do you want to share it? What do you want to do, try, experience, learn, or create? Is this the life you want to live? If not, what is it? What does the life you want to avoid look like? What variables and values define your good life? Who is actually living this life and what he or she is doing or has done before? Questions that, although trivial, are not being pondered or revisited enough by most of us.

The years that follow college are the perfect time for you to define your own questions and find those meaningful answers that will help you make the best possible decisions to shape out the life you really want to be living. It is just a matter of stopping this frenetic life we all live in, lifting your sights, and looking at your values and priorities from the point the view of an outsider. Assess yourself as you do with others, allowing enough time for you to realize what it is that you want to accomplish. Think of what you would like to be doing compare to what you have done for the last few days, and how you would like the story of your life to be told. Keep in mind, however, that the most important thing is not to ponder forever and instead go be the one who writes that story, find new ways of learning, experience, be curious, build new relationships, try new things, work hard, improve, be happy, but also allow yourself to be sad at times, to fail, to struggle, as it is the best path for improvement.

By doing so you will instantly begin to think and act at a totally different pace; you will start placing your professional ambitions within the grasp of your personal priorities; you will set the long-term above short-term rewards, and oddly enough, you will eventually find your life moving slowly while new opportunities and accomplishments come faster. Forget about the effect that your decisions will have on your career. There is no such thing as a ladder that should be climbed off to be successful, as well as there is definitely not a single definition of success.

Once you realize this, you will understand that by seeking a professional upside on every decision you make, you are dooming yourself to the yellow brick road towards failed expectations and limited opportunities.

I truly believe that college makes us more prepared than ever for whatever life has to offer. It makes you an opportunity seeker, and if you don’t hold onto external expectations, it also makes you an opportunity maker. It is the perfect time for you to try things out and not be crippled by that job you should be after. The good thing about your twenties is that you don’t need a lot of things to be satisfied and there is little at stake. You can make a good living off a scholarship, you can live almost everywhere, eat almost anything, and find fulfillment on the mundane. So go design the life you desire by making of the latter your main asset.

From someone who has wandered around without having had any type of “formal” 9 to 5 job since graduation, I can tell you that no professional experience will teach you more or provide you more personal benefit that the experience of seeking your callings, living by your terms and off your own decisions, work, and effort. I can assure you that other’s expectations is what makes your decision making process sink from the very beginning. As humans we tend to give too much credit to our environment for the things that happen to us. Lack of self-awareness is the Achilles’ heel of most recent graduates. It is hard to put in words the things you learn and the person you become when you turn away from what you should be doing, and commit to go down the road of personal development.

“If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else”

Joseph Campbell

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