As a senior in college, preparing for graduation, I have been asked the question “So what comes next?” a nauseating amount of times. My education is set to expire, and I am expected to move onto “the real world” to become for the first time a “real adult.”
In a sense, I understand what all these relatives, acquaintances, and even total strangers are getting at. I exist in a liminal state. I have a part-time job, but my income is entirely disposable: my parents pay for all my necessities. If I fail an assignment, only my grade is hurt: I have no accountability. I am but a quasi-adult. I still call my mom if any little thing goes wrong, still rely on my dad to bring me whatever I have inevitably forgotten to bring back to school after visiting home, still have my parents proofread my essays. Is this all supposed to change in May? Do I magically become a “real adult” when I walk across the stage at graduation? When will the path for the rest of my life reveal itself to me?
Why is all the focus on the after?
I learned how to love myself, to follow my passions. I learned that if I wanted to live my dream, I needed to start chasing it.
I have attended two different schools in my college career: leaving one school with a pre-professional focus on politics to attend another with an intense pre-professional focus on finance. I’ve learned that neither field – nor intense pre-professionalism – fits my goals. However, when I transferred, everyone was quick to assure me that “an Ivy League degree will have so much value.” They gushed how employers will “love to hire me.” To them, the value of my degree is entirely dependent on its usefulness in the workforce. No part of my college experience ever crosses anyone’s mind.
I didn’t transfer (only) because I wanted to go to a better school; I didn’t dislike my old school because it didn’t have the association of Ivy League. Rather, I transferred to find myself. I disliked being in a rut. I disliked the lack of academic challenge. I disliked the politics of inclusion and involvement in extracurriculars. I disliked learning in an environment where everyone’s focus was on the future: on getting the right internships, the best grades, and having a future brighter than those of one’s peers.
I taught myself to go out on limbs, to be unafraid of trying.
I wanted to put the focus back on my college experience. In transferring, I did exactly that. Don’t get me wrong: I am still worried about the future. But only having two years to make the most out of my college experience also forced me to worry about living in the moment. In starting over, I had the chance to reinvent myself. I had the chance to leave all my baggage behind and to begin again with a clean slate. I learned how to love myself, to follow my passions. I learned that if I wanted to live my dream, I needed to start chasing it. I taught myself that I can’t fix other people’s problems, but that being kind goes a long way. I taught myself to go out on limbs, to be unafraid of trying.
I will always be afraid of failing (that’s in my DNA). I still stress over my GPA, but I know that its not the only thing that matters. To me, success is measured by enjoyment of life (both in college and beyond). There’s no way that I’ll ever be the smartest person in the room, no way that I’ll make the most money. I can’t control what other people do, but I can control what I do. Only I am in charge of how I feel.
When I stress over grades, it just means that I am pushing myself to be better. This is the drive that told me it was better to start over at a new school halfway through college than stay where I was and continue to live in comfortable misery. This is also the drive that pushes me to stress over every assignment, to seek perfection even when it is impossible.
Over the years, I have learned to balance. I have learned to live and love and shoot for the stars. When employers look at my degree, they won’t see that. But I will. And that will help me more in the future than any equation ever could.
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Leana Reich is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology. She loves to explore cities, particularly by way of coffee shops and museums, and doesn’t properly understand how lucky she is to have lived at the beach her entire life. She does understand how lucky she is to have such an amazing mom as a role model and appreciates her every day.