“What do you want to do after you graduate?” “What’s your dream job?” “Are you going to move back home?” “What are you doing with your life???”
For current college students and recent graduates, questions like these are all too familiar (and often quite traumatizing). For some, the answers are easy. “I’m going to grad school.” “I have a job lined up at ____.” “I’m going to travel around Europe for a few months.” These answers are great ways to defer painful questions, but the harsh reality is that every graduate program, job, and trip has to end at some point, which brings us all back to the same spot: sweating and bumbling through an improvised “life plan” in an attempt to answer questions from pesky relatives and friends. So what do you tell them? What’s the answer???
The short answer is…there is no right answer (sorry!). There are literally hundreds of effective ways to handle difficult questions like these. But to get you started, I’ve put together three of my favorite methods for getting through painful interrogations from Grandma, Uncle Mike, high school friends, your hometown grocery clerk, and that pesky PTA board member who lives down the street from your mom.
1. Throw the Question Back at Them
You have your whole life to plan your life. No one says you have to have it all figured out by a certain point. Your goals and interests and dreams will change over time, guaranteed. And the best part? We’re all in the same boat.
Don’t believe me? Throw the question back at the person who asked you, sit back, and watch them fumble through an answer the same way you did. When someone asks you about your life plans, they’re often making an attempt to avoid answering those same questions about their own life. So if someone asks “What do you want to do with your life?” and you want to end the conversation cooly and confidently, just say, “You know, I don’t really know yet! What do you want to do with your life?”
2. Make Up an Answer and Run With It!
If you want to say something a little more substantive than “IDK!” (even though it’s totally what you’re thinking), you can always try making up an answer.
Let’s say you just graduated with a Sociology degree and have no idea what you want to do. Your Aunt asks, “What’s your plan for after graduation?” and you know she wants a real answer. Think of a job that sounds interesting, a city you can picture yourself living in, and a realistic timeline for lining everything up. Then give her an answer: “I’m going to spend the next three months applying for jobs in the field of Social Justice or community activism in and around San Diego.”
The key to this method is specificity and confidence. If you make up an answer, make sure you can always defend it and explain your reasoning during the interrogation. Your Aunt might be critical or inquisitive about details of your answer, but at least she won’t lecture you about not having an answer! And just because you tell one person that that’s your plan, it doesn’t mean that has to be your real plan! Consider it a placeholder answer while you work on figuring stuff out behind the scenes.
3. Ask for Advice
While it often feels like people ask these questions in a sick attempt to make you feel hopeless about your life, that usually isn’t the case. More often than not, your friends and relatives just want to feel involved and help guide you towards happiness and fulfillment.
To indulge them, and to avoid floundering helplessly in made-up answers, try asking for advice the next time you need to answer questions like “what’s your plan after college?” People love talking about themselves and feeling helpful, so if you haven’t figured everything out just yet, try responding with something like this: “Well my degree is in History and I’ve always been interested in helping people. I think I’d like to work somewhere near Chicago after I graduate. Do you have any advice or recommendations on how I can pursue those goals?” You’ll be surprised by how well your answer will be received, and who knows, maybe your pesky Aunt or neighbor or friend will be able to help you out!
Ultimately, you’ll probably never have life “figured out.” But you’ll also be hard-pressed to find anyone else who truly feels like they’ve figured it out themselves. So don’t stress yourself out too much, and don’t let these questions drive you crazy. Stay humble, stay hopeful, and you’ll be fine.