When someone would ask me about my college plan, I never wanted to tell the truth because the truth was, I didn’t know.
Nobody was talking about how it’s okay not to know. It’s actually incredibly normal, but, sadly not enough people recognize that. Instead, there was this overwhelming pressure to decide on a career straight out of college despite being young and stupid. That didn’t matter, though, because I wanted people to know that I had some sort of plan. I didn’t. To me, some plan was better than no plan, even if that plan was outrageous and unrealistic.
The truth is, talking about pre/post college plans is a miserable conversation. It’s the equivalent of throwing uncooked spaghetti at a wall and whichever piece stuck to the wall was the conversational career I’d go with. I like to imagine that variations of this same conversation happens quite often.
Society: Have you been thinking about college?
Society:….and? Any idea on what you want to study? It’s around the corner!
Me: Uh, I was thinking astronomy. I don’t think enough people appreciate the moon.
Basically saying something just to fill in the conversation with words. Those words may not matter, but they keep the conversation moving. Somehow, that conversation holds more value than saying “I don’t know”. In small talk, the phrase “I Don’t Know” can be an exit strategy. It’s easy, it’s quick and it’s mindless. In polite society, it should end a conversation. However when you’re talking about college and your future to society, that topic is immediately bumped up to a medium or large talk. “I don’t know” just doesn’t work. Those topics are always dense, and no matter how brief of a conversation you intend to have, it’s never just a brief conversation. It’s always interconnected with the achievements of someone else as a means bridging the gap of relatability.
Seven years later I discovered the beauty of acknowledging that “I don’t know” is an acceptable territory as long as you’re actively making attempts to figure it out during the unknown.
Not knowing gives you options and allows you to learn while simultaneously knocking you down a peg just to keep you humble. Being humble is important. Nobody is that great; most people are decent, at best. Supposedly, it takes the body exactly seven years to replenish every cell in the human body; an incredibly specific amount of time. I have this strange theory that every seven years we become new versions of ourselves. It’s unsupported by any actual scientific data, but I enjoy entertaining this idea.
You can take my theory literally, where every seven years from age seven, 14, 21, 28+ etc you become different version of yourself. To some degree it is true, your knowledge as a 14 year old is much different than the knowledge and life experiences of a 21 year old. I chose seven years because I believe it’s enough time to have experiences, but also learn from them. A lot can happen in a year, but it does not allow you to properly reflect on it because it’s simply not enough time. Usually those feelings will still linger and (most likely) you will not be able disassociate yourself from it quite yet. It’s likely that this theory will be more applicable on your own timeline of seven years due to a life event such as death, marriage, graduation etc.
The only rule is that it must be within a seven year timeline; the rest is for you to discover.
I can only share how my theory has applied to me because the scientific community has yet to find funding to test my hypothesis. It’s very possible this is just theoretical nonsense, but I like to believe that there is some truth to this.
In my experience, the first year is spent being clueless…
…but knowing enough to question your environment due to a certain level of pre existing comfort. It’s the “I Don’t Know” stage, only you don’t realize it. For example, the transition from being a junior in high school (that’s usually when all those questions start), to college, to post-college life. Your entire worldview can shift in that time.
The second year is followed by exploring and slowly attempting to break out of your comfort zone.
In the moment, you may not fully realize your reservations or anxieties. You just know that they exist. You may feel trapped by them to some degree, but that’s part of the process. For me, the second year was figuring out what exactly I wanted to major in. I realized that I had an idea, but didn’t know if it existed or that it was tangible. Once I did, it was life changing.
Year three-six is when you experience something beautiful, or tragic.
Sometimes it’s even beautifully tragic, if you’re poetic enough to see it that way. If you have the misfortune of experiencing a life change (a death, a move, a pregnancy, an illness, a marriage etc) usually that time is spent adjusting to your new sense of normal. It may take more than a few years to adjust. By then you’ve learned to live with it. It doesn’t always have to be a big life-altering moment of change, it’s on your own terms, and everybody has different standards of those moments and what they mean to them. In my experience, I had enough footing and confidence to figure out what I wanted in terms of a career, my future, and my life.
Seven years ago, I was 16. I was a misguided fool who underestimated the importance of the SATs and the entire college application process. I wanted a concise answer for the inevitable “What are your plans for college?” question that would be asked at every social gathering I would attend throughout my senior year.
I would later learn, versions of this very same question would follow me throughout my life. Instead, it would take on different forms such as: “How’s college?”“What are you studying?” “What are your post-college plans?” “Do you have a job in your field?” “Are you dating?” “When are you gonna settle down and start a family?”
Questions like this mean well in context and delivery because they imply that people care enough about my life to ask, which is lovely, but also passively enabling people to project all the dreams they never fulfilled onto me. Suddenly it’s my responsibility to pursue them, which is a lot of pressure to be tossed onto me without warning.
I don’t want to live in anyone’s shadow.
I’m still trying to discover my own damn shadow. Besides, people who talk down about my dream are revealing that they never had a chance to shine. But it does no good to project everything they should have, could have or would have done if the circumstances were different. It serves no value. Questions like that are designed for others to inform me on their successful relative accomplishing more than I ever will in my entire existence. But I can’t point that out because that would be ‘rude’.
By year seven, you are growing into your own, the craziness may have calmed down or you’ve learned to adapt to it and allow yourself to be a better version of yourself. Personally, I found year seven to have been the best for me. It seems like year seven is when you feel content with enough parts of our life to reflect inwards and acknowledge your own growth. You feel happier, and that’s important. Ideally, you should be able to see where you once were and where you are currently.
Then, year 1 comes back around and you do it all over again. You accept the “I Don’t Know What’s Next” and hope that you’ll have enough teachable moments to guide you along.
For some people, my “seven years wiser” theory may seem outrageous or unrealistic. Seven years can teach you a lot, but mostly it teaches you how to adapt to other people’s crap while using that insight to become a (hopefully) better person. If not, at least you tried.
Originally Published on Thought Catalog
I live in New York, representing the East coast portion of Words Between Coasts.