May 5, 2011

Don’t Worry, It’ll Be Alright

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For those of you who are about to graduate, I totally understand how stressful it can be to transition from college life — which is awesome — to adult life, which can be very scary. I understand because I went through it four years ago, and I have friends who went through the same thing, and I am in some ways going through the same kind of transition as I prepare to graduate from law school.  Here is my advice, for what it’s worth.

First: relax! You are about to enter your twenties, which is the time when you get to explore your options before you settle down into something you love. Making the decision about what to do first may seem scary and daunting, but it only feels that way because you have so many options. And, as overachieving Cornell students, you may feel incredible anxiety about making the “right” decision. Don’t bemoan your options or your indecision; embrace them. You will not do the first thing you do after college forever, and if you remain honest to yourself, you will discover something you really love.

Second: Don’t just go to grad school! Grad school offers an incredible academic and professional opportunity, but it also commits you to a field and leaves you with educational loans that will stay with you, whether you want to keep using that degree or not. You should actually think through whether you want to do the work that comes after you get that degree. If you can’t talk to patients, don’t become a doctor. Think about how else to use O-Chem, and if you even want to do that.

Third: Go through your Mountain Man phase! John Muir went and lived in Yosemite for a couple years when he was around 22 years old. A friend of mine went to Japan and taught English for two years. A friend of my brother’s worked as a mechanic for a year after college before using his degree in genetics. I call this phase the Mountain Man phase, and if you feel compelled to do something that does not seem to fit into a plan, do it. I swear it’ll be good for you.

Fourth: Don’t ignore play! Don’t neglect the things you love to do that seem to have no “purpose.” If you enjoyed doing something in college — dance, poetry, music, theatre, comedy — find a way to keep doing it on the outside. The things that bring you joy always turn out to have some kind of value.

Fifth: Be interested in other people! Don’t just tell people about yourself (and the fact that you went to Cornell). Listen to what people have to say, be respectful and kind, help people even if you won’t get anything in return and find a way to stay in touch that does not involve Facebook.

Sixth: You don’t have to be an adult right away! You can live a bohemian life until you find your direction. You don’t need to let your Type-A tendencies force you into something you don’t want to do simply because it seems like the “right” thing to do. If you need to move back with your parents for a year, go ahead. Everyone else is doing it anyway.

Seventh: You will have to be an adult eventually! Eat healthy, exercise, don’t get some disease or reputation or credit card debt you can’t fix. You will eventually have a spouse, children, and a mortgage. Be prepared to settle down, but enjoy the fact that you get to experiment before you settle down, and use the time to find something you love.

If you are feeling down for not having something that you wish you had, just remember that sometimes a missed opportunity can allow for something even better to come along. You are a smart, capable, hard-working person. That gives you the tools to be successful in whatever you choose to do. Just don’t let your high-achieving ways keep you from being open and honest with yourself about what you want to do with your life.  There is no right answer — it’s all up to you.

Kate Lee is a third-year Cornell law student, the manager of The Sun’s Barely Legal column and a former articles editor for the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. She may be reached at kcl55@cornell.edu. Barely Legal appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Kate Lee