It is officially May, which means graduation season is nearly upon us, and although this is the third time I have done the whole graduation thing, I’ll let you all in on a little secret: I have some real fears about life after this degree is done. Perhaps some of you are feeling this way as well, whether you’re graduating for the first time or the seventeenth. Hopefully, letting you know some of my fears and how I’m attempting to talk myself out of them will help us all get through this with a little less fear and a little more ease.
Fear #1: Since I haven’t learned absolutely everything there is to know on this earth, I won’t be successful once I leave the walls of institutionalized education.
Reality: Nobody knows everything, nobody expects me to know everything, and continuous learning is a good thing.
I’m never going to know everything, of course. But it doesn’t mean that I can't be successful in whatever I choose to do next. Recently, I have spent a lot of time getting comfortable with being the person in a room who knows the least, to combat this fear. While it feels extremely vulnerable, it also empowers me to take my learning into my own hands, rather than feel ashamed about not knowing something I don’t know. My hope is that it makes others feel the same way, and helps me to continue growing in the process.
Fear #2: If I don’t “use my degree” immediately after graduation, I’m a failure and a fraud.
Reality: “Using my degree” can mean whatever I want it to.
Friends: This. Is. So. Hard. I am graduating this year with a Master of Arts in Trumpet Performance. There are a whole bunch of voices coming from everywhere (including my own head) saying that if I don’t have a job playing trumpet professionally--soon--that I have failed, and I was silly to think that I could “make it” as a player. It is so, so hard not to listen to this voice. Imposter syndrome is real, and so is my fear. But guess what? Only I get to determine what success and fulfillment look like for me. And every part of my educational journey will help lead me to that place.
Fear #3: Without a specific end goal and specific expectations, I will have no purpose.
Reality: This is scary but also exciting.
I’ll admit, I think this is the hardest fear to swallow. For me, going to school feels comfortable. A plan of study is laid out for me, professors and conductors let me know their expectations, and I happily set to work meeting and exceeding as many expectations as I can. And I get to wrap it all up in a nice little box called graduation that comes with a pretty piece of paper showing the world that I know a few more things now. After graduation, I have a lot more say in what I do with my time and energy, whether it’s taking a job, working on creative projects, or some combination of both along with hobbies, relationships, and everything else that life has to offer. The amount of decisions feels overwhelming, and how will I know what to prioritize? I need to get more comfortable with not knowing the answer, and maybe with some time, that unknown can be a source of excitement about possibility rather than fear of purposelessness. I’m definitely still working on this, but am always trying to move forward.
I don’t have a quick fix for fears after graduation. I sure wish I did. But taking a step back from that fear and thinking through it a little can help give a different perspective on what feels so scary in the moment. Keep going, and stay strong--we’ve got this!