As I am progressing through my final year of college, my least favourite topic of conversation is what my plans are for after I graduate. The very same matter is also proving to be the most rampant across all my interactions – to my unending frustration.
I believe the well-meaning “and what do you plan to do after?” questions first began firing my way towards the end of secondary school, particularly by older extended family members (aunts, uncles, grandparents) and family friends who could remember when I was “only that size”. I imagine as an easy way of finding common ground when there lie decades in age difference and months between each respective family gathering.
Alas, I never doubted their genuine interest in what avenue of life I was to pursue after a compulsory 13 years of mainstream education. To choose a post-secondary path is the first time one is permitted to exercise real autonomy over their life choices, it is a milestone in adolescent life.
However, this could not take away from the fact that amid a jumble of crammed leaving certificate study, maths grinds and attempting to choose a college course from an overwhelming sea of options, the question was inherently stress inducing. A polite smile and well-practiced response while I attempted to embody zen-like energy was my way of tolerating these regular encounters.
I came to observe the phenomenon of people’s seeming inability to exist in the present, and their rather persistent fixation on the future
So, upon being accepted into my choice of college course and leaving the bizarre mountain task of completing the leaving certificate (which we Irish seem to be obsessed with) behind, my relief was profound. With four long years ahead of me before yet another life transition loomed, surely, I would be in receipt of some peace from my circle of relatives and friends while I soldiered on through my degree.
I was sinfully wrong. It was at this turning point that I came to observe the phenomenon of people’s seeming inability to exist in the present, and their rather persistent fixation on the future. Having chosen to undertake an arts degree in English and sociology and therefore my career prospects being broad and ambiguous, not to mention the running joke that arts graduates end up being unemployed, I was to be an even more vulnerable victim of the dreaded questions about my future.
Inquiries by friends and family into how I was enjoying my course, was I settling into college life, were unenthusiastically posited. I would be probed with: “Now, what do you plan to do with your degree when you’re finished?” It felt as though I had barely been granted the chance to absorb college life before being forced to jolt my attention five years down the line.
As the years went on, I became defeatedly accustomed once again to the interrogations as to what I was to do with the rest of my life. Now, in my final year and in preparation once again to be launched out of this institution and decide what comes next, this phenomenon has culminated so as to leak into almost every encounter I have with another human being. And I have numerous issues with this.
I somewhat envy my relatives’ naivety about how fundamentally impossible it is to plan a future in 2021
You the reader may be wondering at this stage – what do I plan to do after college? What is the unspeakable answer to this question that irks me so much? Quite plainly, I have no idea.
When I offer this answer, most people over the age of forty seem to view it helpful to add “would you go into teaching?”. I wonder just how overwhelmed the supply of teachers would be if this advice were to be taken each time to whom it was offered. To this, I must endeavour to disguise my irritation by explaining to my (insert relation) that, no, a degree in English literature does not in fact sentence one to a life at the top of a classroom willing angsty teenagers to deconstruct Robert Frost poems.
At the same time, however, I somewhat envy their naivety about how fundamentally impossible it is to plan a future in 2021. I can just about manage to diffuse my frustrations when I remember that not everyone’s introduction to adulthood was plagued by the first pandemic in over a century and overcast with the dark loom of climate change and an impenetrable property market. I’d quite enjoy eliciting out of my nosiest relatives how they would go about deciding their next step in such a context.
Truly, what is the point in making long-term plans when, as the pandemic has demonstrated, they could be flushed down the drain at any point with not a hint of sureness remaining? We now live in a world that is at the mercy of its own ever-changing uncertainty. Throughout the lifetime of coronavirus, we have all been through the cycle of attempting to make plans under our ill-informed predictions about what the next six months will hold, only for our situation to be picked up like a saltshaker and banged about time and time again.
What is the point in making long-term plans when, as the pandemic has demonstrated, they could be flushed down the drain at any point with not a hint of sureness remaining?
Eventually, I learned to make my peace with this. I adapted. I assumed a modern fad of spontaneity, doing what was possible only as soon as it was permitted, knowing that another lockdown could be lurking just around the corner.
What I didn’t expect from this one-day-at-a-time lifestyle was for it to grant me a go-with-the-flow enlightenment. As someone with anxious tendencies, planning ahead is my mind’s enemy. Planning ahead means worrying ahead. If I knew what I would be doing after graduating, I would undoubtedly be lying awake each night rehearsing my potential future and unravelling every facet of it that could go horribly wrong. I imagine the lack of sleep would not do good things for the more pressing task of writing my final year dissertation. One thing at a time.
My friends like to slag me for my preferential conversation topic of what dystopian futures may be awaiting us – food shortages, cyber attacks hijacking the internet, complete and utter societal breakdown in the face of ecological collapse. I speak of these things light-heartedly (although I’m only half joking), with my general sentiment being that the only certainty is uncertainty.
During the summer, I met someone whose common catchphrase of “planning is an illusion” stuck forcefully with me, because I believe it to be true. At this point in time, I cannot find the merit in researching masters programmes or exploring job opportunities while any number of things could influence my preferences or possibilities in the meantime. I think we could all benefit from a little less obsession with what the future holds, and a little more time spent embracing the present.
I’ve taken to dealing with my abhorrence of the question “and what are you going to do after college?” by pretending internally that I simply don’t hear it, responding with a confident “no idea”, and promptly changing the subject. All the while, taking consolation in the fact that my most urgent matter of planning at present is how I’m going to celebrate my 21st birthday. Which, I believe, is how it should be.