Stepping into the unknown

Lena Yang

Graphic by Lena Yang

Last month, I made the decision not to apply to grad school.

To most people, this seems like a simple decision. Some people just aren’t meant for further education after they finish their undergraduate degree. There’s no shame in that. But for me, it was always part of the plan.

When I was in grade six, I made the decision to pursue journalism. Yes, I was a very ambitious child. I created a newspaper for a class project and since then, it was my chosen career path. In high school, I loved English. I knew the next turn in my path was university, where I would take something related to writing. Naturally, English made the most sense.

I went through four years of university knowing exactly what I was going to do. I became immersed in The Cord early and I never left. At the end of every year, I knew what the next year was going to bring. Applying for another position. Focusing on journalism.

In my last year, while all of my friends were graduating and moving on to their post-graduate endeavours, I already had a plan — I would run the newspaper.

And even after that when my family asked me what was next, I always had the answer. I could tell them what I was doing this summer, but I always felt uneasy about saying grad school was next.

It wasn’t until this past fall when the newest cohort of Cord editors started talking about having to order transcripts and get references that I really stopped to think. Was grad school next for me?

The decision weighed on me heavily. To me, having a plan meant I had my life together. It meant I knew exactly what I was doing and, in vain, I was better than everyone else. Those who took time to figure out their lives were wasting precious time.

How naïve I was.

I am 23-years old. I have accomplished a lot, yes, but I have also sacrificed life’s beauties and wonders by being too worried about success and looking great on a piece of paper.

University opened me up to the beauty of taking time for yourself. Life goes by fast — they were always right with that existential bullshit — but it’s also okay to take time for yourself and breathe a little. It doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be successful and it certainly doesn’t mean you won’t find success and happiness down the road. It just means right now, you don’t know.

What scared me the most about not applying to grad school was I didn’t know if I was ready to say I didn’t know what was next. The unknown is terrifying for anyone and for it to be just over half a year away is a nightmare waiting to happen.

But it’s not a nightmare.

For the first time in my life, I don’t know what’s next. And you know what? That’s okay. I’m excited to see what the unknown abyss holds in store for me. Whether that’s a job out of the blue, a stint traveling around the world or just a few months sleeping on my parents’ couch, I’m okay with not having a plan. I want to take time to do everything I sacrificed trying to be “great.” I want to take time to give back to those who helped me get where I am. I want to take time to better myself as an individual and be truly happy with what I have in my life.

Far too often we worry about credentials, structure and balance. But just as often, we need to have a little distortion in our lives. We need to be able to stand on one foot on a two-by-four wooden pole with no control over what’s next. We need to be able to stare the unknown in the face and be confident in tackling it.

Because if we’re not confident with the unknown, we’ll never be confident with what we have.

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