What do you want to do after you finish your degree? As I enter the second year of my master’s, this question pops up more and more often. Similar to the inescapable what do you want to be when you grow up of elementary school days, these questions teach us from a young age that we are always supposed to know our next step. We are meant to feel that who we are in the present is defined by our future goals. The difference is that when you’re in second grade, answering “the lady in the toothpaste commercial,” will likely satisfy the question, without the pressure of following through. When you’re a grad student, however, it can suddenly feel like an unsolicited interrogation.

I applied to university without a clear vision of what I wanted in the future. I started my undergraduate degree in one program and switched to another in my second year. I thought of studying film, then creative writing, then anthropology. I ended up majoring in zoology. I changed courses and directions so many times that I tacked on another year to graduate in five years instead of the expected four. I entered my master’s thinking I wanted one career, and I am now exploring options that are seemingly unrelated to my current field of study.

I don’t think this is a fault of my own indecision but rather a product of having many interests. However, it can be isolating to think everyone around you is “on their path”, and you’re still trying to find the entrance to yours. While at times it feels like everyone else has got it figured out, I’m willing to bet that there are many others out there who feel like me. I’m no expert in dealing with the discomforts of the unknown, but there are a few pieces of advice I have picked up from books, friends, family, and strangers that helped me and can hopefully offer comfort to someone else.

  1. You made the best decision with the information you had at the time.
    It can be hard not to look back and regret certain decisions, wish you had made different choices, or linger on “what ifs”. Each step, even if it felt like a stumble, brought you to where you stand today.
  2. The best kind of learning is living.
    Even if the future feels daunting, where you are right now is an opportunity for personal growth, living a fulfilling life, and learning more about the world around you.
  3. Let your gut be your guide.
    If and when you do feel pulled in a particular direction, chase after it. It is never too late to change your mind, change your course, or change your career, no matter how scary that seems.

In the past, I envied those with a set path, the people who knew what they wanted next and the steps it would take to get there. Now, I look excitedly towards the endless possibility of pathways in front of me, I value the lessons I’ve learned along the way, and I savour the experiences of the present.

All this to say, it’s perfectly okay not to know what’s next. It’s okay not to have a five-year plan. Maybe you have a three-month plan instead. You might not even know what you’re having for lunch today. It’s okay if what you want to be when you grow up is what you’re doing right now.

What do you want to do next? I used to cringe when I sensed the conversation heading in this direction, but now I am confident with my unconfident answer. I don’t know, but I’m happy where I am right here and right now.