real life: this is not a dress rehearsal

Before graduating from the University of Michigan this past May, I always identified myself as a “broke college student.” After a summer of working an unpaid internship, I suppose I have to start using a new term: “broke young professional.” It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, however.

During my senior year, all I wanted in the whole world was to sleep…for about five years. I wanted to skip all of these “next steps” and “transitions” and “decisions,” dreaming instead of what fun it would be to wake up and have a life fully formed without my assistance. Without, even, my opinions taken into account.

The problem lied in the fact that there were too many choices. One day I wanted nothing but to move to a big city and squat in a friend’s apartment until I found a job waitressing. Other days I wished for a professional job to fall into my lap. Still others found me yearning for grad school in a multitude of concentrations–English, Social Work, Marketing, and Writing, to name a few floating around in my brain.

I was overwhelmed. I was emotionally wrecked. I was exhausted. College–what I had thought would be a grand way to filter myself into a box of concentrated interests–had turned out to only broaden my horizons further. The U gave me insight into possibilities I didn’t know existed and made me all the more passionate–and fearful–for the future.

So, I moved home. Yes, the dreaded “settling back where you started with nothing but a piece of paper to show for all of your hard work.” It was ominous, but I knew that in order to move forward, sometimes one must take a couple of steps back.

Everyone asks me what I got my degree in. When I respond with, “English Language and Lit,” they scoff and then ask, “So, you want to teach?”

If I wanted to teach, wouldn’t I have gotten a degree in education? I think to myself in a tone dripping with sarcasm.

“No, I want to write,” I answer politely. Then I launch into a (still polite) tirade about the fall of the English language and the importance I’ve found in effective communication. Sometimes that shuts them up.

More often than not, they ask, “Well, what’s next?” While I sometimes want to scream, “Can’t I just sit down for a second?!” I realize that this may not be the best way to treat a customer at the winery where I work. Instead, I respond, “I’m not sure. But it’s pretty exciting to have all sorts of options, don’t you think?”

The thing about real life that I’ve found so far is that there is no REAL life. Not for most of the people I’ve surrounded myself with, anyway. I’ve met 45-year-olds who still serve coffee and 22-year-olds that started their own businesses at the age of 16. I don’t think I know anyone that is still doing what they started their career in 30 years ago.

Having gone to college in the age of transition is daunting at times. I am expected to know exactly what I want to do with my life, but understand that it probably won’t flush out the way I’ve planned. I’m expected to want a career AND a family and to be able to handle both when the time comes. I want to write for a magazine, knowing full well that most print journalism, as we’ve come to know and love it, will probably cease to exist within 10 years. Things are in flux and it makes for a rough transition for everyone.

In that same sphere, I still believe myself when I tell people that it’s exciting to have options. While it may sound to some like I got a degree in “reading books,” I know that my education taught me how to communicate efficiently and to have a distinct voice. I feel lucky that I had the opportunity to move home because I know that I would have failed miserably had I gone elsewhere.

So now, four months later, I’ve found an apartment and am convincing my college friends to come visit me in Northern Michigan. Those who have so far have fallen just as in love with my hometown as I have. And while there may not be as many options for young people here as there are in New York or Los Angeles, we have something much, much better. The cool sand and rushing water, the food and wine, and the people of Northern Michigan are what makes this place such a popular tourist destination. They are the things that helped bring me back to life after college, and they are the things that I am passionate about now. And while I may work at a winery for the rest of my life, who’s to say that’s a bad thing? At least I have that silly piece of paper with “The University of Michigan” embossed on it, and at least I have the lake. THAT, friends, is “what’s next.”