Immediately following college graduation, this is the question that I always count on to be tossed around during conversation. It is rhetorical, mostly — no one really expect any sort of genuine, reflective answer. And this is a relief, because I have no reflective answer to give. I know that being an “adult” (used very loosely when describing the early 20’s) normally involves rent, work, and an early bedtime. When that question is directed toward me, all that really comes to mind are logistics. Losing school meant gaining a calendar.
A little more than 6 months has passed since I sat for my last paper. Surprisingly, during the time since, the most striking transition has not been waking up before the sun. Instead, it has been losing the reliability of upcoming change.
Leading up to this moment, school had segmented life into scheduled chapters. I’m sure you remember. Each year would bring in a new set of people, experiences, and lessons. Like clockwork, I could count on the expected turnover to provide new challenges. If I was feeling stagnant, I could simply number the days remaining until the next adventure would begin.
I never understood how much I relied on the predictability of transition until it was gone.
I can no longer depend on school’s scheduled rhythm of newness. One option now is to cross my fingers and wait for change to happen to me — unexpected life shifts are bound to strike at one point or another. But I have found that there is a certain dissatisfaction with waiting on fate to bring you something new. Slowly but surely, I have begun to understand that if I want to ensure continual growth, I need to start actively writing chapters for myself.
When I first realized this, I panicked at the ambiguity of it all. When is the right time to shake things up? How do you decide to try out a new job, city, graduate program, or stage of a relationship when nothing is forcing you to do so? How do you discern complacency from contentment?
I must confess, I have yet to answer these questions. However, I have eased my panic by finding a useful framework in considering them — a framework that you might find useful as well.
1) I first (try to) graciously take stock of what I already have
The practice of gratitude for my current situation helps to focus thoughts of change on striving forward towards the horizon, rather than running away from what’s behind.
This Forbes article entitled “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude” describes one asset that I find particularly useful when considering change:
#7. Gratitude increases mental strength.
Consistently giving thanks has been proven to increase resilience — a crucial tool to have in your arsenal throughout this process.
I define what I want to learn
This helps narrow down which type of change I am seeking. I try to dig for an answer that presses further than just “to learn more about myself”. What specific part of my life or my identity do I want to push?
I accept my limited perspective
There is no way to know what exactly a change will lead to, or what a lack of change would have resulted in. But as Steve Jobs reminds us in his Steve Jobs’ Famous Speech at Stanford University,
“You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
I just recently made a huge move to Nairobi city. After after all that years in Nakuru, I left the sources of comfort that I had relied on my entire life — friends… family… consistent weather… My first thought , “What have I done?” Yet, slowly but surely, I have started to realize that this move might just be one of the best things to ever happen to me. More than anything, it has shown me that I am stronger than I once thought I was.
That being said, I still do not know how this new chapter will fit into the grand book of my life. But recognizing this limitation is liberating as much as it is uneasy. With its embrace, I can become one step closer to relinquishing my desire for control long enough to continue to take the risk.
Grounded by gratitude and armed with a strategy to chart my own life toward my own goals, I am ready to appreciate –even amidst my uncertainty– just how many chapters of my life remain unwritten.
Time to keep writing.