Ruminations of an Unsure Girl
It happened just the other day. I officially became the last of my friend group to not have a solidified plan for next year. To really set the scene, I must let you know — I am a senior and it is April. I graduate in a little over a month and I’m floundering a bit because I still don’t know what I want.
I know. Many might shudder at reading this or cringe at my unfortunate situation.
And I am terrified. But I also know I’m going to figure it out. I’ll be fine. I just wish people could be ok with the fact that I’m ok with not really knowing what will happen next.
Indulge me while I put my nearly completed degree in psychology to work: From a developmental perspective, the period of “emerging adulthood” — 18-22 years of age — is an understandably tumultuous time of growth and learning about oneself. According to Erikson’s theory of the stages of psychosocial development, by the time a typical undergraduate student receives their diploma they should have reconciled the identity vs. confusion stage, meaning that in this particular time of adolescence we’re meant to wrestle with our independence and form a sense of self. If this stage is not resolved, a murky kind of unsurety about who one is and what they see their role in the world to be can emerge. So sometimes I feel a bit worried that I haven’t quite resolved this stage. I’m pretty sure I’m still confused.
Maybe it’s just the floundering, existential crisis of a typical 22-year-old questioning her place in the world as she’s about to leave the comfortable confines of this insulated slice of unreal reality known as the University of Notre Dame. Maybe it’s normal to be questioning everything and feeling so unsure. Maybe it’s not and I should go back to therapy. Whatever your opinion on the matter may be, I will say that I’ve come to accept this state of being.
I’ll admit to the moments in which my stomach drops — the moments in which my unclear future feels like a giant failure, like I’ve somehow wasted so much by sitting here after four years, still not knowing. I’m not looking forward to facing graduation weekend and being asked countless times, “What’s your plan now?” and having to respond with a smile that “I’m still figuring it out.” But I also do think it’s okay not to have it figured out just yet.
I can point to a number of concrete experiences that reshaped my need for an articulately outlined plan for the future. I’ve loved my time here at Notre Dame and I know that I am fortunate beyond words for the opportunity I’ve been given to be a student here. I have had numerous singularly spectacular nights when you sit surrounded by people that make your heart burst with joy and you laugh so hard that your stomach aches and tears leak out of your eyes and you’re sore the next day from it. I have also had moments of intense self-doubt, breathtaking grief and terrible loneliness. Sprinkle a world-altering global pandemic over the top of an already unpredictable time and suddenly it made less sense to me to “know” what was coming next.
I think back to an earlier version of myself and I realize that I spent so much time with such a clear plan, meticulously having each step mapped out ahead of me. In high school, every moment was scheduled and my determination to get into a “good” college, to get into Notre Dame, was so clear and straightforward. I think of my 17-year-old self and I genuinely don’t understand how that person seemed so on top of everything all the time. How did she do that? And what happened to her?
She grew up. She learned that life is messy, often sad, and sometimes unfair. It’s also exciting and often rewarding and full of bursts of joy that can balance and, if you allow them to, put the less pleasant moments into perspective.
What I’ve come to realize is that I didn’t know who I was four years ago. And I honestly still don’t know who I am. I don’t quite feel fully formed yet. I think there is so much life to live and take in. I actually don’t think there will come a point when my life becomes a static thing — a point in which I’ll decide I’m done learning to be a slightly different version of myself. But for now, I realize that I’m ok with not knowing and I don’t want to pretend or act like I’ve got it all figured out.
I don’t necessarily feel ready for what’s next, but I also don’t feel unprepared. Perhaps that doesn’t make sense, but then maybe a majority of my musings so far have been littered with such contradictions. I think none of us can ever really be ready for what life throws our way, but I do feel prepared to take it in stride. I’ll adapt, change, learn and grow. I’m ok with not knowing exactly what it will be, but I’m feeling confident I will deal with all the messiness and beauty and hurt and happiness life has coming my way.