The first few weeks after the semester ends are always the hardest for me. After a semester of studying and working, there is something distinctly unsatisfying about sitting around in my pajamas all day eating cereal and playing video games.
This semester I did exceptionally well. I got As in each of my four classes, and I will be leaving for an internship soon (funding be willing). But this marked the end of my junior year, and I’m basically terrified. I’m terrified about what’s to come, I’m terrified about what I’ve screwed up. I haven’t signed up for any standardized tests like the GRE or LSAT and when I graduate next May, I have no clue where in the planet I’ll end up.
During panic-striken moments like this, I like to plan my dream life, either living on a goat ranch in Colorado or in a yurt in central Mongolia. I slink into my mind because the fantasies don’t scare me. Nothing about a dream world with baby goats and porch cows frighten me. Even when I think about the work there, I’m thinking about honest to God hard work. Hard work doesn’t scare me, no work does.
I try to tell myself that it’ll all work out. I try to tell myself that I’ll get employed and be able to own a home and raise a family. I try and tell myself that every day, it works out for a lot of people, but those people didn’t major in religion and minor in gender studies. Those people just made smarter choices. I’m not stupid, but I was short-sighted. I chose to do what I loved rather than what would pay me, and I am swimming in a proverbial sea of potential poverty.
I look around and see hundreds of souls like my own, drifting and panicking and I want to grab them all and ask: “ARE WE GONNA BE OKAY? ARE WE GONNA FIGURE THIS OUT?” but they don’t have the answers any more than I do. My mentors, my professors tell me I have such potential that greatness is just ahead if I am bold enough to pursue it, but I don’t know if I even want whatever greatness could be defined as. Is greatness wealth? Is greatness fulfillment? Can greatness be quantified with dollar signs, awards, and letters of commendation?
I think the goal, for now at least, is just peace. I want to go to bed calm and wake up similarly. I want to stop panicking. I want to be able to breathe in casually and say: “This is going to be fine.” I want to move beyond this frantic state where I’m desperately hoping I can figure out how to function like a proper adult, and just exist without worry regarding how well I’m doing.
I want a house with a backyard, I want the suburban dream (cities have never been my scene) with two kids and a few animals. I want to live in such a way that I don’t feel like every action or inaction is life-threatening.
But I’m not there yet. Now, I’m a rising senior at a university in the deep South and I’m trying my damndest to figure out my place in this strange sphere we’ve called home for hundreds of thousands of years. I catch myself trying to catch my breath and sometimes I just stop and stare into the horizon like it has my answers. It doesn’t, nothing does, but I have to live on anyway.
Times like this, I try to remember that I won a lottery by even existing, and that thousands of pairs met and had children just so I would exist. I am an evolutionary miracle and I ought to act like it. I am limitless potential.
But I’m still the scared little girl drowning in doubt, even if that doubt is normal. When the semester ends and I’m faced with my own incoming endings, I can panic or thrive—though most often I try to do both. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I’ve ruined my entire life at 21 with a series of misguided choices. I don’t know if I’ve made huge mistakes or had huge triumphs.
No magazine can tell me what I should do, no motivational speaker. I can read ten articles on why students shouldn’t follow their dreams or I can read ten articles on why it is imperative that one stays on the path that their heart desires. I can listen to Jim Carrey regale me with how you can “fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on what you love.” But none of it matters. None of it will hold me when I’m scared or bolster me when I’m unsure.
Hopefully, I will look back on this in ten years and laugh at myself. Hopefully, I will read these fear-fraught sentences and think, “God, I can’t believe I made it.” But I hope the future me remembers. I hope she remembers the nights she spent worrying. I hope she remembers how every day felt like a challenge and how anxiety brought me to my knees. I don’t want her to remember because this was a good time or because it changed my life. I want her to remember so she can remember to not do this. So she can be better than this.
I’m probably not going to go to grad school or law school; I hopefully won’t have to go back to school to take up nursing or something similar, but I don’t know. I don’t know what the future holds and that has to be okay.