Picture this: You’ve found the college that’s a perfect fit for you. You know what you’re going to study, because you’ve known what you want to major in since you were five (you always had a gift for it). Next you’ll graduate on time with great grades, and your dream job, where you’ll be happy and fulfilled every day, will be lined up and waiting for you.
That’s what happens, right?
That might be how life plays out for some people, but for the majority of us—no matter how confident or successful the people around you may seem—life is a little more unpredictable. If you feel like you don’t have any natural talents (spoiler: you do), have no idea what you want to major in, or are generally struggling to figure out what you want to do next, you’re not alone. Far from it!
You don’t have to make all your big decisions right now.
Before you even graduate high school, it’s easy to feel like your days are suddenly nothing but decision after decision, and every one of them has the potential to make or break the rest of your life. Plenty of well-meaning people have probably peppered you with questions; are you going to college? Which one? What are you majoring in? What kind of job do you want when you graduate? Are you dating anyone? How serious is it? Are you going to finish that pizza or can I have it?
Here is a secret for you: Even if these decisions feel huge, no matter what you choose, you won’t ruin your life. Promise. College is a big decision, sure. But it won’t be your defining characteristic. Think of all the successful adults you know (parents don’t count!). Do you know where they went to college? Maybe, but probably not. Do you know any adults who stay up late tossing and turning in bed because they’re full of sadness about where they got their undergrad, or because they regret majoring in chemistry instead of biology? Doubtful.
And even if you make a choice that you do regret, you’re not locked in. You can change your major (or declare a major later)! You can transfer to another school, or leave school altogether! You can make new friends! You can cut your hair, change your name, and move to Argentina (just give your roommate a heads up first)! No matter what you choose now, you won’t be stuck there if you don’t want to be. There are always possibilities and potential ahead. Pick what feels right to you now, and if your goals and preferences change in the future you can adjust your decisions, too.
Focus on daily successes.
Having long-term goals is great. Knowing that one day you want to be a published author, or a CEO, or in the Guiness Book of World Records for longest fingernails can give your life some structure. But if you don’t have any concrete long-term goals right now, that’s okay! Focusing on little successes can help you realize that you’re making constant progress every day, even if you’re not sure what you want to do for the rest of your life (or what you want to eat for lunch).
Did you get outside today? Have a great conversation with someone? Turn in a paper? Witness a squirrel carry an entire apple up a tree? You’re doing great. What small successes make you happiest? Focusing on these might help you get an idea of what you want to do in the future, but even if they don’t, they can still help you enjoy your day-to-day life rather than stressing about vague Big Picture problems in your future. And that’s a pretty big success right there.
You’ve got time to grow.
If you feel like you don’t have everything figured out right now, you might feel frustrated at the end of the day. “What am I doing?” you might ask yourself. “I haven’t cured cancer. I’m not even on the New York Times bestseller list yet. I’m just plodding along, doing the same thing every day.” Look at it this way instead: Even small, day-to-day actions add up. The little things you do now are strengthening your resume, building relationships, and developing skills.
Even if you feel like you don’t know which way your life is headed, all of your experiences have value. They’re all leading to something, even if you aren’t sure what it is yet. And sometimes the flexibility of uncertainty can lead to great things. While you’re exploring your options for the future, make efforts to study interesting things, meet new people, seek out exciting experiences, and eat something that scares you every day (mostly kidding about that one, but you never know—it could be your calling). You might find something that’s just right for you that you never would have thought of otherwise. And maybe you won’t! But even then, you’ll have plenty of stories to tell.
Maybe you don’t know what you want to do with your life. That’s completely okay! Don’t listen to your obnoxious uncle who claims to have graduated with a PhD while also serving as a Navy SEAL and raising five kids by age 22—listen to this blog post instead. While we’re at it, remember that there are plenty of other resources out there that can help, whether your concerns are about academics, future prospects, or mental health. You have plenty of time to figure out what’s best for you. It might not be today or even next year, but don’t worry—you’ll get there.