Sooo, what’s next?

Here I am, living in Jaco, Costa Rica. I’m working at the amazing learning vacation school, School of the World, that I’ve spoken of before when I was a student. I am the Program Coordinator, so I am the go-to girl for the guests. I check-in students, answer email inquiries, phone calls, make the weekly class schedule, coordinate airport transfers and tours, and take care of social media for Facebook and Instagram. I have a little office with AC and a mini fridge. I eat a mango every morning and watch the sunset every night. I live at the school when it isn’t at full capacity, which covers a lot of living costs, but also has me packing up and leaving if someone books a room last minute. I’ve been here for almost 6 months, and starting to feel a little more local every week (although my Spanish needs major practice). It’s a small town, but has a fascinating surf/relax/party/travel vibe. I basically work six days a week from 9-4, surf when the tide suits my work hours, go to the gym, and relax or socialize when I’m not doing those three. I’ve just gotten into volunteering with some local kids too, teaching them to swim or doing arts and crafts. Honestly, I’m living really simply. I don’t go out too often, I’ve been focusing on myself and what I’m going to doing after my time here ends, and sometimes that takes up more time than anything else. It’s the biggest question on my mind, and obviously a huge decision.

I don’t like to give away too openly how confused I am. Although it obviously happens often, I don’t like when people strongly doubt my decisions, and I don’t like to give them room for questioning my thinking too much, because I’m happy with how everything has played out. I like to present myself as someone who has their shit together. I think we all do in some way or another. But sipping my almond milk smoothie in this tiny vegan-hipster cafe, and in front of the whole world of the Internet, I’m going to say it: I’m lost right now. And here’s the better statement: I’m okay with it.

Here’s where I am right now. I’ve just experienced a year of the most self-growth, the most independent thinking, the most reevaluation of what really matters, the most transformative time period and the most genuinely life-changing 12 months I’ve ever lived. I’m working in a tropical paradise, doing a job that suits who I am and allows me to meet people from all over the world, but it’s time for me to move on to the next thing. And now what.

I heard you. You think university is the next step, right? It’s a smart choice. You may be older, you went to school, it could be good for me, help my future. Yeah, it is great. But, I’ve never been an over-achiever in the classroom…I’m not very good at school. And I’m supposed to jump into 100+ thousand dollars in student loans for doing something 1) I’m not very good at 2) doesn’t guarantee me a job that I want 3) while I could educate myself, by my own self-discipline, for free in a valuable trade or skill online or at Barnes and Noble 4) takes up 4-5 years of my young life 5) while I could work many different jobs in different fields all over the world, learning new skills, building my resume, and refining exactly what I want a stable career in?

80% of freshly graduated college students walk into their new job on their first day, communications degree and 5 years of higher education under their belt, and still have to have time and resources spent on being trained their first few weeks. They have great knowledge, but it can’t be applied to a lot of practical things in the real world.

I’ve been watching my friends, seeing how this whole college thing works. I know you don’t know something until you try, but I think I have a pretty good grasp for someone who has never attended. University is really damn hard. You meet new people, you party, find your niche, live independently, your Astronomy professor blows your mind while you just sit there in awe. You stay up until 4am getting stoned and watching Netflix and wake up at 3pm the next day, and no one cares at all. Your work load is absolutely huge, or very small, if you make it that way. You work ridiculously hard in and outside of a class, harder than anything your high school junior self could begin to fathom, surrounded by others who want to do just as well or better, and might end with an average grade. You meet a group or person you just clique with, and find you are closer with them than anyone else, and in only a few months. You’ve created yourself in this important little world you’ve built around takeout Chipotle, expensive textbooks, too much Netflix, the perfect amount of Coffee Mate, long, intense discussions about the world and theories you recently developed about life with roommates or complete strangers you just met at a party. There is a developmental aspect of college that is the same in traveling or living abroad.

I’m doing the same thing, believe it or not. Take away the in-class education, take away the comfort having a home away from home, a room you decorated, food you know, people who speak your language, a culture you understand, friends who are there to stay and not leave in a week. You’ve built this world with people you know, a weekly class schedule, Thursday night yoga, and all the above that you are familiar with. And in that little world, you learn about yourself and who you are. I’m doing the same, but I don’t have a world. I don’t even have a definite place to stay next week. I just have me. I’ve skipped building a life in a different place, and instead I have connections I’ve made with who I am and what I want to do in places all over the world, or with different people. The only consistent person and thing I have had the past year is me. Of course I always have family and friends, but they aren’t there to hug and talk to, I don’t have wifi at the hostel I’m staying, or they are leaving for Australia in a few days.

But college students have a degree to show for it in the end. I have to work or develop skills these next 2 years that will make me comparable to a college graduate at a job interview.

Bear with me here. I’m not anti-college, actually furthest thing from it. I have profound respect for college students who really are working hard, who really are getting their time and money’s worth. And not just out of their education, but joining clubs, meeting new people, putting themselves out there and pushing new limits. Not just allowing it to be just a harder high school, but giving it all they’ve got. Doing something different. And, maintaining your grades too. I’m really impressed by those people.

But let me say this. Shout out to my fellow millennials, not you, baby boomers.

Did you choose to go to college?

No, you didn’t hear me right if you immediately answered “yes”. Did you really choose it? Or did you just do it? Hey, it’s the next step, everyone else is doing it, you’re only 18, you don’t understand the world away from your parent’s house. “What, am I going to just go off and work? I don’t know anything. Seriously? I’m still a kid. My mom just finished packing my lunch this year, I don’t understand taxes, I don’t really have any credible skills to put on my resume outside of graduating high school and the 3 years I played soccer and was in student council. I’m not doing that. I’m going to college next because at the end I’ll have a degree, I’ll have my life figured out, I’ll know what I want to do and I’ll be ready for the real world.”

The world is a little better until you are graduated from college, degree in hand, and have no idea what the hell to do next, or where to begin. Everything has just come to you until now, it has all happened to you. Now, for the first time in your life, you are going to make a huge life decision. Just you, and just for you. You’re an adult.

So, here I am, the college graduate, so to speak, without the degree. And a lot of people will look at me like I’m very ignorant for not choosing college next. But, at least right now, I think something else will suit me better. And I’m on the path to finding it right now.

One thought on “Sooo, what’s next?

  1. Hi Maureen,

    just came across your post and tried to figure out your e-mail address so I could reply but since even Google couldn’t find anything I’ll go with a comment then: I admire you for being so brave and courageous to walk your own path instead of following the herd. I wish all the 20-year-olds were that brave and if everyone spent some time travelling and getting to know new cultures the world would be a different place. To cut my long story short: I did the whole college thing, I finished my degree and even followed the herd of friends and other graduates into a corporate career – only to find out that it wasn’t what I really wanted. So I did what you’re doing right now – just that I was in my late twenties when I had to re-evaluate my whole world and put things in perspective again. So don’t let anyone tell you what is the “right” next step…. And if I was a boss I would rather hire a courageous open-minded and well-travelled human who has worked hard out there instead of a fresh college graduate. Keep up being lost, I think you’re heading in the right direction 🙂

    PS: I wrote something (maybe) similar once:

    Happy reading and merry Christmas from Austria.

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