Monday, July 25, 2011

End of the Long-Term Plan

As grads, we face the end of the end of the long-term plan.

Before in life we always had a long-term plan, something farther down the road to look forward to. In middle school we looked forward to high school, in high school we looked forward to college.  College was always the ultimate goal: it was the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the student rainbow.

Problem: it was the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the student rainbow.  What happens after that? What’s beyond the pot of gold, other than the rough dirt of hard ground?

This is one reason why so many students freak out at the end of their college careers. We face the end of the long-term plan.  Our lives no longer have a built-in structure, a firm schedule with recognizable expectations.

As students, we knew the schooling system: 2 semesters, with a Christmas and summer vacation. This was a constant, beginning as early as kindergarten.  As we grew older a few things changed – we began having different teachers for different subjects, or if we were really cool we actually went to different classrooms for different subjects.  The cocky among us began throwing around the word “homeroom,” a definite sign of maturity.  

When college hit, we adapted to the changes: doing our own laundry (but only some of us…I know who you are, you students who still made Mom do it), picking and carrying out our own major, only going to class a couple times a week (or not at all, depending on the class and depending on the person…I’m definitely not thinking about you partiers here), or for the really brave, cooking (aka learning to burn things in 301 different ways).

Despite the changes and new realities of life, we college kids still lived around the basic structure.  Semester, Christmas break, semester, summer break. Repeat. Throw in a May term.

After graduation though, the structure breaks down. There is no structure.  Grads face a vague and uncertain future.  Some of you, I know, are thinking, Hey, quit trying to freak me out.  I have a job lined up already.  If that’s the case, my heartfelt congratulations. I hold almost no bitterness toward you.  But my point is still valid for you, and it’s still valid for those of you going on for more schooling, or for those who plan to volunteer.

My point is, what will you be doing in five years?  Or even just two?  Or one?  My point is, life is no longer about the long-term plan.  It’s about the short-term plans. Plural. 

At this stage of life, it’s unlikely that any position I have will offer viable longevity.  I’ll enroll in a journalism-training program in Costa Rica for three months, and then I’ll...   I’ll get a summer job in Montana somewhere, and then I’ll…  I’ll do AmeriCorps/Peace Corps/[insert volunteer program here] for [insert time period here] and then I’ll…[insert plan here].  

Someone affiliated with the DC Hope Alumni network recently told me that she had a list of all the businesses Hope Alum worked for, but that it was three years old and likely very out of date; job turnover is so high that they likely no longer work at the same businesses.

I don’t mind change. Actually that’s a lie; I hate change.  But I can handle it. I’m okay admitting that change will be a constant in my life.  (Huh, what a paradox…change as a constant.)  Actually, if I’m with a really optimistic person and a solid stein of beer, then so much change actually sounds kind-of exciting.  I could go anywhere. I could do anything. I am limitless! (But only as long as I don’t look at my bank account.)

After all these musings, I guess I do have a a decent short-term AND long-term plan.

Short-term plan: Get a series of jobs. Hope I enjoy them. Have them lead to THE JOB. 
Long-term plan: have THE JOB, a job for which I’m trained. Love it.

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