It’s not uncommon for college graduates to ask themselves “OK, I graduated. Now what?” After all, you spend your entire life up to that point doing nothing but going to school, having people direct you and tell you what to do, then all of a sudden *poof* no mas. No more directed paths, grade scales, or summer vacations. It’s like if your entire life just installed a whole new OS on you.
Having been there (and done that) I can honestly say that this is one of the greatest, most liberating feelings you’ll ever experience. It’s also one of the most incredibly frightening things you’ll even go through. Congratulations: you’re now a walking clichÃ© from “A Tale of Two Cities.” (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”)
The problem is that most people don’t know what they want to do at that point because all their lives they’ve had one goal: to graduate. They’ve felt the contentment of accomplishment knowing all too well that another challenge waited. Then, after graduation there were (seemingly) no more challenges.
While reading the comments in Quantum’s post, I happened to read this little jewel:
skuzz: Good advice. The best plan is no plan at all, the rest works itself out.
My bull-crap detector exploded as I read this. “The best plan is no plan?” Excuse me? Dude, skuzz, I’m sure you’re a nice guy and all, but that’s a guaranteed recipe for at best mediocrity, at worst absolute failure. In fact, it reminds me a bit of a passage out of Alice in Wonderland, where Alice is asking the Cheshire cat for directions:
“Cheshire Puss…Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
With that in mind, I’d like to offer the following suggestions:
How Do I Want to Live?
Instead of asking yourself “What do I want to do?”, ask yourself “What do I want to live like?” Or, more esoterically, “What do I want my life to mean? What do I want to make sure I do before I die.” Write everything you think about here down. Use as much space as necessary — four or five notebooks, if necessary. Feel free to set grandiose goals. Don’t worry about “realism.” We’ll account for that later. (Remember that your chances of accomplishing a goal that’s not written down is much less than accomplishing a goal that is written down.)
In answering this you’ll start to figure out a couple of things. First, you will start figuring out what’s important to you in the long run. Second, you’ll start to see what it is you don’t want to do (and where you don’t want to be). Out of this will come an important revelation: a goal, or destination. (I highly recommend writing all this down, taking as much time with this as you need.)
If I Had $20M, but Only Six Months…
Once you know what you want to do (and you’ve made a list), ask yourself this: “If I had $20 million in the bank (in other words, money’s not an issue), but only had six months to live, what would I choose to do?” Write down this list and make it as long and intricate as possible. Fill up a legal pad if you have to. Get someone who knows you well to help you out. Don’t let anything your heart really longs be held back. This is for no one but you, so pour out your soul and to Hell with any dogmas.
Once you’ve finished that list, grab another pad and make another list: Again you have $20 million in the bank, but this time you have five years to live. What would you do? Follow the same rules as before.
Once you’ve finished that list, grab another pad and make another list: This time you have $100 Million, and 20 years to live. What would you do?
What Would It Take to Make this Happen?
Now, look at the six month list and pick the top three items. These should be the ones that honestly tug at your heart strings, so re-read the notebook you wrote all your wishes on and see which you really get emotional about. (If none, ask someone close to you for help and keep making your lists.) Ask yourself, “What would need to happen in order for me to accomplish these things over the next five years?” From there, write down ways you can accomplish these things. Write down as many as you can; don’t let yourself even so much as think “no, I can’t”. Start figuring out ways. You may have to let your mind work for a few hours (or even days), but don’t let yourself accept “I can’t do it” for an answer. Once you’ve written down two or three ways, the floodgates will open and many other ways will start showing up.
After this list has been created, take a look at it. What in that list would you most like to do? What would be the best/quickest way to get there? Remember that you’re going towards a destination (your goals) and what you’re looking at now are all the possible vehicles. For example, if your goal is to travel around the world for a year, you may want to take a job in the shipping industry, or start a business in order to make enough money to do it via cruise ship. (Heck, Jim Rogers drove around the world!)
Now, grab the five year list and pick the top three items. Do the same as above. Finally, look at the 20 year list. Is there any reason why you, in the years you have to live, can’t accomplish at least some (or, if you’re the average college-aged graduate, all) of the items in that list? Probably not. Do then as in the previous steps.
Interview People Who Have Been There and Done That.
If you can, find people who have gotten some of what you’re looking for and ask them how they got there. However, when you do this, it’s important to make sure these people lead the kind of life you want to lead. Seek people you can admire and respect both personally and professionally. Spend some time with them, even if it takes going to their house and mowing their lawns or throwing out their garbage. It is super important to find quality people here. Be discriminating: it’s your existence we’re talking about here, nothing less.
In short, that’s the way you set up goals for your life, which is how you, my dear college graduate (or anyone else who may read this) can answer the question “What do I do now?”
If you want to learn more about setting and accomplishing goals, reading books like Think and Grow Rich, The Magic of Thinking Big, and Become Who You Were Born to Be will be of great assistance in your journey.
My last piece of advice: be flexible. You can set all kinds of goals in your life and then find something which so rocks your foundation that everything changes. Sometimes you think you’re going one way, but actually end up somewhere else entirely. (This can be good or bad, which is where mentorship — finding someone to guide you — comes in real handy.) Be light on your feet. Don’t micromanage. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.
Good luck, and if there’s anything I can do to help you, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. Better yet, find yourself a good mentor, someone that’ll stretch you and who embodies those things you want as part of your life.