Figuring Out What’s Next

Graduation was more of a beginning for me than an end. As an individual with a creative drive and a dream to be a writer, there was no corporate ladder or a step-by-step list awaiting me when I finished studying. Having just completed a structured and consuming bachelor’s degree, it was overwhelming to realise there was no next step laid out for me like there had been my entire life. 

For the first time, I was in the driver’s seat no longer on autopilot and yet I had never felt more out of control. 

We are often defined by what we do rather than who we are. Our jobs and our level of education are often a topic of interest and one others can use to place us in a box with a label they can easily understand. When we meet a new person for the first time a common conversation starter is “what do you do?” and even when catching up with family and acquaintances, we are often asked the same sort of questions. 

As a writer who didn’t have any work published straight out of university, it was always hard to find a succinct answers when these questions were thrown my way. This made it easy for self-doubt to creep in and I began to feel insecure about the path I was on and the creative dream I felt I needed to pursue. 

A little shaken and with some concerns about my path, I found that comparison became the next biggest culprit of unnecessary pressure that I felt the need to place on myself. My peers and I were no longer all at the same stages in our lives. Many of us had just graduated, but some were still studying or planning to move on to post-graduate study, while others were walking straight into graduate roles or full-time jobs. A level of comfort is taken from being at the same stage as someone else, from being able to relate and communicate about the same things and share struggles. I felt to a certain degree, this dissolved after graduation because we were all leading such different lives. In hindsight, this is amazing because it means that we all made the most of our education and the opportunity to chase our dreams, but in the moment it felt like I was being left behind.

I was beginning to feel like I’d failed because I was stuck and caught in some sort of weird limbo with no clue on what to do next. All these feelings brought to mind a term I had learnt in anthropology called liminality or liminal space which is associated with studies of rites of passage, and graduation can definitely be counted as a major rite of passage for most of us. 

Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep  learned through his research that there are three distinct phases within a rite of passage – separationliminality and incorporation. In the first phase, the individual is segregated and taken away from their previous lifestyle. The second phase, liminality, is the space where change occurs. When the person leaves what they were so that they can move forward into who they will be. The third and final phase is when the person is reintroduced to society with a new social status and new lifestyle. Van Gennep found that no matter the geography or the culture in question, everyone celebrated rites of passages when it came to birth, puberty, marriage and death.

I have realised in our Western culture, there isn’t as much respect for this second phase of the rite of passage, which is probably why it often does feel like being stuck. In our modern day, technologically-driven world there isn’t as much patience, let alone empathy, for people stuck in-between.

We are expected to move from one phase of our life to the next without a second thought. We move from high school to university, from university to a full-time job, from a full time job into retirement. But how often does it actually work like that? How often does the transition period stretch out long and painful? It’s probably because we don’t allow ourselves, or each other, to feel the moment; to be in-between.
 
I believe there isn’t a right or wrong amount of time that one can spend in this liminal space. It is unique for everyone. I know that I have to be here right now, because I can’t become who I will be without sitting in this space of ambiguity. The phase of liminality is all about the dissolving of one’s identity in order for it to be reformed. It is not supposed to be suffocating, however, it is meant to be an open space of transition in which normal limitations are blown away so that you can be open to something new.
 
So, despite all these doubts and pressures I knew to stay true to myself and my goals I couldn’t give up on my dream even if it meant that I would be in this state of transition for a little longer. I began to find small ways to make progress in my creative pursuits and even though I still didn’t have an answer to all the questions, I challenged myself to find power in the ‘I don’t knows’ and no longer be afraid of them. I have been living the post-graduate life for two years now and have accumulated a few tips and tricks that I recommend for anyone else that is feeling anything like I did.
 

1. Take Your Time

The biggest misconception is that life is some sort of race and that there is a strict timeline we all have to follow. This is simply not true. Everyone has ups and downs at different times in their life and it is a waste of time to judge or compare yourself to the successes or failures of others. The biggest thing I’ve learnt is not to wish time away and rush towards the next shiny thing. Taking small steps towards my goals and being present and thoughtful in the process is just as meaningful.
 

2. Meet like-minded people & put yourself out there

I was never a fan of networking, but I can no longer deny its importance or its value, especially when it came to aiding my creative endeavours. Having a little bit of courage and challenging myself to meet new people was one of the best things I ever did. It’s how I’m able to write and publish this article. Whether it was through messaging someone in my industry on LinkedIn or applying for an internship or attending a writing event or workshop, all of these meetings gave me the opportunity to grow and build new relationships with like-minded people.
 

3. Follow what you love

The biggest advice I kept on hearing from the people that love and support me, is to follow my passions. It has helped me not to give up when I thought it would be easy to just pick something else to pursue that was more straight-forward than writing. I knew writing and being creative in my career was a cornerstone of my passions and following that calling has led me to many opportunities and I believe it will lead me to many more. It has also led me to follow passions outside of the career spectrum and I’ve been able to travel and see over seventeen new countries in this last year which is a monumental achievement in and of itself.
 

4. Lose the “I’ll be happy when…” mentality and find things that make you happy now

Happiness is not a destination, it is an emotion that we can feel as often as we like if we let ourselves. I found it easy to sit back and say “I’ll be happy when I have a job” or “I’ll be happy when I’m travelling” but the reality is that never honoured the present moment. Finding hobbies, learning something new, working on projects that creatively drive me and inspire me are little ways I find bits of happiness everyday. It also helped me realise I am more than what job I have or will have. I am building my life and that starts right now, not in a few months when I’ve decided I’ll be “happier”.
 
So, please, take this as your reminder that your dreams have value. Don’t be disheartened and take this time of limbo as a blessing in disguise. It is a phase in our lives we all won’t have ever again and it is a great opportunity to explore all those things you’ve wanted to do. Learn a new language, travel, write that book you’ve always wanted to, go to an art class, try new ways of being creative and take care of yourself, the rest will fall into place when it’s supposed to.
 

Author Bio

Gabrielle Downes is a recent Arts graduate from the University of Melbourne. She is an avid reader and writer and is currently working on starting her own personal lifestyle blog. Gabrielle is passionate about history and travel and hopes to continue seeing different parts of the world.

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