December is an exciting yet stressful time of the year for all of you fellow college students! For some of you, December means long nights of studying, sweatpants, lots of coffee,4am papers, and dreaded final exams. For others, December means Christmas break, going home, and graduation!!! Graduation is like a breath of fresh air- you did it! You’ve hit a major milestone- your college degree! Now it’s time take everything you’ve learned and take the real world by storm!! Kiss all of your fun college days goodbye- it’s time for your career! It’s time for reality.
Exactly a year ago, this was me. I was graduating Magna Cum Laude from SUNY Oswego. I applied to grad school and was accepted at Syracuse University’s Falk School of Social Work, and I was preparing to step into the world of professional careers and 401 K’s…I remember thinking “I’m so ready for this! My resume is amazing, my grades a superb, and I’m en route to receiving my Masters Degree!” I was on top of the world!!! Everything was in place, I was doing everything right.
A few weeks after graduating college, reality really began to hit me. Everyone I talked to was congratulating me on graduating and it was cool to have accomplished something so great. I didn’t mind telling everyone about all of my success! However, the expected life questions followed soon after:
“So, what’s next?”
“Do you have a job?”
“Are you continuing your education?”
“Did you get into grad school?”
Luckily for me, the answer to all of those was yes, and I was damn proud of my answer! I was going back to school, I had a job. Everyone was so proud, so excited about everything I was doing.Based on society’s expectations, I was on the right path!
Sure, it was the “right path”, but was it the “right path” for me?
I was working with children in the inner city, and to be honest I loved it, because I loved kids. However, I began to realize that this was going to be life now (until grad school). There were no more summer vacations! There were no more month long winter breaks! There were no more 4 day weekends, and having class at 2 in the afternoon! I was in the real world, and as exciting as it was to have received your degree and to land a job in your career field, it was also very sobering in a sense. I sort of began feeling like this was life. Your job and your career that is. All of your time and energy goes into working full time! By the time I got home everyday, I didn’t want to do anything. I was tired, and just wanted to sleep! I remember my colleagues saying, “welcome to the real world girl!” For me, I began to be afraid…but then I remembered-this is the expectation! This is why you went to school! This is what you’ve prepared for! On top of that, I was going back to college in just 8 short months!
As I just mentioned, I was also preparing to return to school in the fall in the midst of working full time. I had just mailed in my confirmation to start grad school, and I was scheming on how I could build my resume and gain experience so that I could nail an awesome internship come August. I was ready. However, as Syracuse University began sending me more information about my graduate program, the more stressed I became. My first semester consisted of 16 credits of courses which roughly equals a course load of about 5 classes. Another requirement for the fall semester was a 25 hour per week internship equaling 250 hours for the semester. When I first saw this, I was like “Okay, nothing I’m not used to. Typical college demands.” However, the 25 hour a week “unpaid” internship was a little problematic. How in the world was I going to intern for 25 hours a week, go to class, study, FIND SOME TIME TO WORK, and have any time to myself or to do anything else? I talked to my advisor about it, and she told me that she had just finished the semester I was dreading beginning. She said she basically struggled to make ends meet, and to survive, but it was necessary for success. I thought about it, and agreed with her and didn’t worry about it anymore. I was on the right path, and I had made it into grad school, so I had to keep going and keep achieving. This is what I had to do! I also began to delve into the life of “graduate school financial aid”. Out of the $60,000+ cost of attendance for SU, I was only awarded $20,000 in assistance. Where was the other $30,000 coming from? I had no idea. Sallie Mae knew where it was coming from though. Of course their were fellowships, grad assistant jobs, and other options to help, but with my course load and internship requirements there was no way I was going to have time for that. I knew every other student was doing this and probably having the same concerns as me, but I knew I had to make it work. That’s just how it goes in college. Everyone else was doing it, and it was the right thing to do. I had to get my Masters right? So, I prepared to sign my life away for the next two years, and rack up another $120,000 in loans to obtain my Masters Degree. It was what I had to do. It was the next step on the path to success.
Ten days after I graduated from college, I thought about my life. I thought about my dreams. I had so many dreams, so many things I wanted to do! In the midst of working a job full time, I began feeling like I was never going to have time for those dreams anymore. It was time to put my dreams away. However, I was not feeling that at all. I was really passionate about a lot of different things! Writing, traveling, entrepreneurship, business, motivational speaking and the list goes on! However, I kept telling myself, “this is what you’re supposed to do. This is the path to success!” Every day, I tried to convince myself of this, but my dreams!!! Sure I loved social work, and kids- I truly did and still do love those things, but my dreams!! I knew I had to go to grad school and continue my education, BUT MY DREAMS!!!! My dreams meant so much more to me, and I was not about to fall into the “real world” and “right path” box! I was not gonna end up like everyone else who decided to sacrifice their dreams to meet the expectations of society. So, I didn’t. I followed my dreams.
I created this blog that January following my graduation, and it was such an amazing experience. All of this was weighing on my heart so much, to the point where I knew that, that was what this blog was going to be about- following your dreams, choosing your path! It was like it all happened on purpose, all at the right time! I prayed long and hard, and I knew this was what I was supposed to do, so I went for it! I chose my path. I dove into entrepreneurship, I picked up writing, I began traveling, and doing everything I was truly passionate about! I wasn’t gonna give up on my dreams. I went hard for them and I still am! I didn’t end up going to grad school either. Sure, people were disappointed. I got the whole “you need it to be successful”, “you’re already so successful, why stop now?”, “it’s such a prestigious school”, and my favorite “how are you gonna throw it all away.”
“How are you gonna throw it all away?” They’re right. How could I just throw my dreams away?
For almost a year now, I have been working on my dreams. Do a lot of people think it’s crazy? Why, of course. I sacrificed grad school, and really “building” my career, and “sticking to the status quo” to pursue my dreams! I still have a long way to go, but this past year has shown me nothing but growth and success. I see my dreams coming true! Stepping out on a path of my own was scary. However, it wasn’t as scary as it looks. I still take care of my business. I still have my full-time job. I still pay my bills, I take care of my responsibilities- those don’t just go away. I just didn’t let my dreams go away because of those things and neither should you. Yes, life and society have this pre-made path that everyone is supposed to follow, but you don’t have to follow it. I chose my path. I chose me.
At the end of the classic Disney movie, Pocahontas, in the scene where her father is about to kill John Smith, Pocahontas falls on top of John Smith and says,
“This is the path I choose father, what will yours be?”
I challenge all of you to answer this question. What will your path be? You have to choose. Especially those of you preparing to move into a new chapter of life. I’m not saying don’t go to grad school if that’s your plan or change your whole life plan around after reading this, I’m just saying make sure you choose your path. Not the “right” path or the “expected” path or the “realistic” path, but YOUR PATH. It may not be what everyone wants you to do. It may not be what everyone expects it to look like. It may look crazy to the rest of the world! It may look childish, it may look risky, it may look unrealistic, but it’s yours! It’s not supposed to look like anyone else’s and if it does, well, you may be on the wrong path. This week, I’m telling you to follow your dreams. Take a chance, take a leap of faith! I did, and I promise you, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Choose your path today.
It’s not too late, child. Let the spirits of the Earth guide you. You know your path, child. Now follow it!
-Grandmother Willow, Pocahontas
Remember you don’t have to be average, you can be extraordinary. You don’t have to be a rock, you can be a diamond.”