What do you plan to do after your Master’s degree?

Crossing the Atlantic means changing your surroundings.

Duhhhh, this is obvious, right? Though this may seem totally transparent, the connotations that come with this idea aren’t nearly as strong as the tangible reality of that fact. Living 3,941 miles away from home in Chicago for a year is allowing me to experience my days with a different sense, slowly morphing my formerly established perspectives. The UK is about as culturally similar to the US as you can get relative to the rest of the world, yet this change in setting both significantly strengthened and altered what I know and believe.

Exposure to what’s uncomfortable and different forces you to focus internally on your needs and preferences. While being here, I’ve discovered the most about what I value through many meaningful conversations with friends, through what I’ve learned from my courses, and from being alone, living in my own space.  Though I’m trying to embrace these values long term, some values need to wait for another change in surroundings for me to pursue what I can’t do here, even if I don’t necessarily know what I plan to do or how to do it.

Something I’ve increasingly noticed though is that there’s one question that is pretty ubiquitous no matter who you talk to or what setting you’re in; “what do you plan to do after you finish (insert pretty much anything here)?” It’s strange to me that that is the go to question for family, friends, peers, acquaintances etc. and the one given the most importance. I understand that asking this question is the norm and that it’s often asked without much thought; I can’t deny that I ask this question too.

For some people, maybe those more future oriented, they have a well crafted plan and answer to this question. Like many others, I am not one of those people. I try to match the surface level casualty of this question with a casual response. But the depths of my mind get a little panicky, thinking about the things I’d like to do that align with what I find meaningful, but not knowing any of the specifics or a career path that I’m heading towards. I used to always have a plan and an answer to “what’s next”. Now that I don’t, I’m learning how to be ok with not having life figured out, and being open to the opportunities presented.

What do you plan to do after “X”?

The receiver of this question is automatically put under the pressure and weight of the unknown future. It implies that what you’re doing now isn’t as important as your future plans. It implies that what you do is who you are/more valuable information than knowing about other aspects of your personhood. People rarely ask, “what do you value?” or “how do you define yourself?” and “what kind of person do you want to be?” I think because these questions aren’t asked, we often neglect their importance. Or at least focusing on who you are rather than what you do becomes easier to dismiss because it may seem too cheesy, obvious, ambiguous or any other adjective that expresses your views on these questions. It is a little cheese, but it’s cheese that can further connect you to the people and issues that make you feel needed and give you the internal fuzzies. You know, that ‘feel good’ feeling.

Though I have friends who ended up with their dream job after graduating that aligned with their values, I have more friends who took jobs that were in direct conflict with what they believe because money took precedent at that time. And I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing at all. But I do think it can be easy to fall into that path and forget or dismiss your values along the way if they aren’t talked about and aren’t brought to our attention. It’s important to reevaluate (lol values, get it?) what’s important in life to figure out how to use that as a basis for the things you choose to do. I believe if you align your actions with your values, it can lead to a more meaningful life.

I recognize that writing this down is far easier than actually acting on it, especially if you have strong habits in the opposite direction on the scale for your values. And habits are tooooough to change, I know. Not only do I have plenty of personal experience, but I’ve also learned all about habits in one of my modules. Do you know what helps though? Changing your surroundings.

BOOM. Full circle. But honestly, changing the environment that you’re in can help free you of certain habits, which can allow you to form new replacement habits that are in line with your values and give you those internal fuzzies. So what’s the takeaway message of this blog post? I like to overanalyze words for fun.