What Do You Want To Do?

Courtney Sams is a junior at the University of Oregon pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Clarinet Performance and a minor in Arts Management. She is active on campus within the University’s Wind Ensemble, Orchestra and Chamber Music Ensembles. In her free time, Courtney volunteers at local organizations mentoring students and advocating for the arts. She loves exploring the great outdoors, cooking and practicing yoga.

It’s your third year of college. The initial rush and excitement of freedom has come and gone. Dorm life has passed and now you’re settled in a cheap old apartment with stained carpet and a broken sink that only runs hot water if you twist it just right. Your weekends are no longer filled with massive parties and groups of friends; instead, your most exciting Friday night involves a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby and far too many Netflix episodes of How I Met Your Mother.

After switching majors a few times you’ve come to terms with the fact that if you ever really want to get out of college, you just have to pick something and go for it. You’re tired of hearing the only question everyone seems to care about: “so what are you planning on doing after you graduate?” Like you even have a clue…

The daily class schedule is monotonous and you’re chomping at the bit to get out into the “real world.” It feels as if life hasn’t really started and it won’t start until you have that sturdy piece of paper with your name typed elegantly across the top–symbolizing the past four years of blood, sweat and tears.

Sound familiar?

After the rush of college fades away, life seems to drag on with never ending schoolwork while the future gets increasingly ominous. If you’re anything like me, you’re ready to get out of school. You’re ready to start “real” life with a “real” job and “real” money. But for many of us, years of schooling still stand luminous above our heads. Whether it is graduate school, medical school or law school.

So how do we stay encouraged when we really have no idea what lies ahead of us? How can we make our life meaningful and successful while we’re still in school?

Here are some of my ideas:

1) Define Your Values

Every family get-together makes you hyperventilate just thinking about it. When your Grandpa sits down a little too close to you at the dinner table and gets that concerned look in his eyes, your hands start to sweat. Did someone leave the oven open?! You know exactly what is coming. Sure enough, he asks you what your plans are after you graduate. You want to scream: I don’t know! Does anyone ever really know?

How do we prevent this experience from happening? The key is defining your values and developing a passion and purpose statement from that set of values. They should be career related to help you determine a future that will be meaningful and fulfilling to you.

Make a list of what, at the end of the day, really matters to you. Some examples of common values are: stability, creativity, prestige, social service, work independence, economic security, leadership, family and relationships, competition, social interaction, profit and gain, change and variety, risk, challenge, gaining knowledge, moral fulfillment, structure and lifestyle.

Some people want a future that is exciting and spontaneous while others prefer stability and structure. Some really enjoy helping others and feel the most fulfilled when they can provide happiness by serving others. Some love to work under pressure in a fast-paced environment while others love creativity and freedom of expression.

As you begin to define your values, you will discover exactly who you are. Your values can help you decide which path to choose when you encounter a fork in the road.

2) Develop a Passion and Purpose Statement

Using the values you defined above, develop a passion and purpose statement. How do you figure out your passion? If you have a declared major, it is likely that you already have your passion figured out. Maybe you’re a Spanish major because you really love Spanish culture or maybe you’re a film major because you are obsessed with film. Whatever your major is, there is something about the subject that fascinates you. Figure out what that fascination is and form it into one or two sentences.

Next, figure out your purpose. When you’re done with your time here on Earth, what do you want people to remember you for? What mark do you want to leave? Is there a change you want to make? Your purpose should make you light up and excite you. Define it in another one or two sentences.

Combine your passion and purpose; the two go hand-in-hand. Your passion drives your purpose and vise-versa. Now when anyone asks you what you’re doing or what you plan to do, surprise him or her with a direct statement. It doesn’t need to be rehearsed or forced; develop a conversational way to express your passion and purpose. Not only will your statement please your anxious family members, future employers will love the confidence of a sure statement of who you are.

3) Do What You Can Right Now

Now that you have your values defined and a clear passion and purpose statement, start putting it to use. You might be in school but that doesn’t mean that your purpose needs to be delayed for later. Maybe one of your values is helping others and your passion is education-related. Find a community service group on your college campus that volunteers to tutor children. Don’t see any opportunities relating to your passion on campus? Start it!

Use the people you know and the contacts you have available to you right now to get involved with everything you can. The key is doing something. It can be anything. How can you figure out what you really love to do if you haven’t tried it? Talk to people in your dream career field. What is their life like? How did they get there? What don’t they like about it? Ask questions and develop connections. Talk with everyone you can. Ask how you can get involved. You never know what doors it may open.

4) “Real” life is now

When school is all said and done, life isn’t going to magically present us perfectly packaged opportunities with a big red ribbon on top. We have to go out there and find them. We need to quit thinking like the twenty-something, naïve students the world makes us out to be, and instead like the valuable human beings with much to offer the world that we are. We don’t need to wait until we have that fancy piece of paper to start fulfilling our goals and dreams.

If we aren’t sure of ourselves, the world will walk all over our dreams and ambitions, pulling us every which way until we are wrung dry and ready to throw in the towel. When we develop a clear idea of who we are, our set of values, passion and purpose, people will quiet the questions and accept us for us. And in turn, our confidence will illuminate and opportunities will be endless.

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