Coping With an Uncertain Future after College

Dear Liz,

I am really concerned with where I am going from here.  While I have a year left of undergrad, I don’t know what I want to do. I have thought about joining AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps, but there’s something that tells me that no matter where I go, I will not be doing the right thing, which makes me feel so incredibly lost and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what path to pursue and I don’t know where to go. 

Dear Friend,

For starters, I want you to know that your particular struggle is not unusual, and I don’t want you to  lose faith in your ability to create a wonderful future for yourself—it is simply a matter of coming to understand why you are “stuck,” and then taking the steps to get “unstuck.”  Try and see this struggle as an invitation to go deeper into yourself, to come to know the authentic you, and when you do, the block you are experiencing will melt away.

Truth be told, I’m having somewhat of hard time giving you advice, because the guidance I can offer is somewhat dependent upon the answers you would give to any number of questions.  For example:

Do you have an overarching vision for your life?  Do you want a career?  Do you want to be a “young parent,” or do you want to have your twenties all for yourself?  Are you currently in a relationship? If so, how will that fit in with the choices you are making for your life?  Are you financially secure?  Will you have student loans after graduating?  Will family be available to you in a way that would allow you to live rent free and save money, or do you live independently?  How did you go about choosing your major?  Are you satisfied with the degree you will earn?  Is graduate school in your future?

But you are not sitting across from me in a life-coaching session (which we could arrange, if you wish to follow up) but rather reading my column, so I will begin as I usually do, which is to land on the words you have used to describe your situation:  there’s something that tells me that no matter where I go, I will not be doing the right thing, which makes me feel incredibly lost…

In a nutshell, we can be stuck for a number of reasons:

  1. Fear of failure
  2. Preoccupied with an emotional hunger
  3. A self-doubt fueled by feelings of insecurity (which is really a version of emotional hunger).


Fear of Failure

Imagine you decided to join the Peace Corp.  You plan, you invest, and in time you find yourself committed for a year in Haiti working on a clean water project.  And you don’t like it.  And you have to see it through.  And upon completion of the program, you realize that traveling/working in a developing country is not for you.  Let me ask you:  What would be wrong with that?  Would you consider this a failure?  Are you right back at square one?  I think not.  Much of our life, at least our younger years, are spent discovering ourselves through trial and error.  One person’s “mistake” is another’s opportunity for Self-knowledge.

Fear and self-doubt are great at keeping us from jumping into life in the most meaningful and heart filled way—instead—we get stuck, which feels like we’re spinning our wheels but getting nowhere.  The first piece of work is to figure out what is behind those feelings—why do you doubt your ability to make a constructive choice about your future? What would happen if you did make a wrong choice—what do you fear the most about that?  Again, these are the sorts of questions you can engage with a life-coach.

Preoccupied with an emotional hunger

We are each born with a number of primal needs that must be met:

  1. To be seen.
  2. To be respected (which means being protected, guided, and at the same time being permitted to have a genuine voice in our life, from day one).
  3. To be loved (which necessarily means that in addition to affection, our parent(s) were able to keep their agenda for our life in check—it’s okay for them to want us to be responsible, kind, and sober, but it is not okay for them to demand that their vision of our life come to pass).

Each time our parent sees us, respects us, loves us, they are investing in that “invisible basket” we carry around—think of each investment as a tiny seed.  By the time we are eighteen or so, the hope is that our basket is relatively full—it doesn’t need to be overflowing, or even necessarily full, but it cannot be empty, nor can it be scant.  Why?  If it is, we go into the world as an adult carrying an “empty basket” and the primal hunger to get it filled will preoccupy our every move.

There is no greater distraction to living the life we are meant to live than running around the world trying to get that basket filled—and if empty enough, we’ll sell our soul for the smallest contribution.

The present circumstances of your life—your relationships, your academics, your feelings…these will reveal to you whether or not you have a basket that is adequately full.  If you date people who treat you poorly, if you have sex when you don’t want to, if your studies don’t get nearly the attention that a high priced education demands, and/or you are unhappy, you may want to consider that your basket is on the empty side.  If so, that is a good issue to bring to a therapist, because it is helpful to work with a professional who can walk us, lovingly, into a past that might be interfering with our present.

Self-doubt and Insecurity

When we cannot experience our worth, we cannot move into our adult life with confidence, enthusiasm, vision, and fearlessness.  Instead, EGO keeps tapping our shoulder and points to that basket and distracts us with feelings of low self-worth or some superficial drive, both of which keep us from the joy that a heart filled and Spirit-driven life can bring.

Try this:  I want you to imagine that any life you desire, any life you imagine, could come to pass…What does that life look like?  Let yourself write about it freely—don’t think too hard—let your heart and soul do the writing.  Don’t hold back—remember—this is an exercise to get you in touch with your deepest wishes—to touch those dreams that would bring you joy.

The next task:  How do I get there?  At this juncture, I would again suggest that you begin a conversation with a counselor at school, a trusted teacher, etc.

We all must balance our dreams with the practical aspects of our life, but when we dream, we are often led to what is lacking in our life, and when face to face with what is lacking, we can discover not only why, but what to do in order to give ourselves what we are so hungry for.  We can restore our Self by filling our own basket, if need be.

Taking deliberate action to manifest the life we long for is always a matter of self-esteem.  Go back to the section on “emotional hunger” and if what I wrote resonates with you, begin there.  Your life has purpose—how phenomenal that your Spirit is so restless to start living it that you were motivated to write!  That’s as positive a sign as stumbling upon a rainbow, a cricket, and a four leaf clover, all in one day!

I hope you touch base with me again, at some point in your journey.


Love, Liz

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