As I face my 3rd month of post college-graduation unemployment, the question, “what are your plans?” is the most feared four words of my current existence. I have avoided family dinners, phone calls from family friends, going to Synagogue, and the local grocery store solely to escape this monster. My answers have jokingly ranged from “I’m currently fun-employed” to the classic “I’m doing interviews, but man, finding a job after the recession is tough.” The truth lies somewhere in the rubble of my self-worth, which crumbles each time I am asked this question.
The nature of the question is well meaning, and generally asked with the purest intentions. But I can’t help but feel vulnerable, awkward, and uncomfortable when the silence lingers and I piece together a response. It’s unfortunate that I feel pressured to have an answer to this question, but also that anyone and everyone feels it is their right to ask me.
So how do I recommend we completely change societal expectations and eliminate the question completely? I don’t. There is no magic spell to stop people in their tracks as they begin to ask you what activity your entire life will consist of, though I’m sure J.K. Rowling may have some suggestions.
The only foolproof way to manage the question is simple: turn it around. Instead of mumbling about your plans to wait until the fall to apply for jobs, ask your Uncle/Rabbi/Kindergarten teacher what they did after college graduation. Answers will surprise you, inspire you, and most of all, give you the confidence that you can still be a world-renowned immigration attorney even if you take a year off to backpack through Asia.
Not only will you learn a great deal by flipping the question around, you will likely build closer relationships with those caring (and sometimes nosy) people who ask about your future. I never knew that my Aunt worked as a floral delivery girl, or that my friends’ mom didn’t go to college…and manages their entire family business with over fifty employees. Well, I didn’t know until I asked.
Sometimes all we need is the confidence to know that others have been in the same boat as us. When your role model tells you that she graduated college and lived at home for a year before taking an entry level job (that she didn’t particularly like), it makes it easier to give yourself the grace to do the same.
Besides, a large majority of successful people did not fall into their success immediately; in fact, most struggle until their late 20’s or early 30’s to find their passion.
Proof, you ask? See the quote below. I think we can all agree that they’ve done okay…
“At 23, J.K. Rowling was broke. Tina Fey was working at the Y.M.C.A. Oprah had just gotten fired from her first job as a TV reporter and Walt Disney had declared bankruptcy.”
I’m not saying being asked what your plans are after graduation is going to feel less like an interrogation, but I do believe that changing your own perspective will save you many awkward silences and sleepless nights. By flipping the question around, you reclaim your own power-and you may actually get some pretty cool advice in the process.
Anna Kovach is a recent college graduate (bet you’d never guess that!) and lives in Oregon with her parents and their Golden Retriever. She aspires to sing jazz, teach Spanish, open a restaurant, become a CEO, or get a Masters Degree in Latin American Studies. Her favorite movie is How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, her favorite book is Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, and her favorite food is anything her Mom cooks for her. You can find her at: @annakovach on Instagram, @annadoublek on Twitter.