What Now?

Author name
Alex Shapanka

From the very moment we enter kindergarten our next thirteen or seventeen years are no longer up to us. Sure we can rebel, choose to drop out of school, or elect not to attend college. But we’re all at Duke, so I’m going to go out on limb and say we allowed our lives to be dictated by a cultural hegemony. Our immediate goal was decided for us – do well and move on to the next level of education. Of course we had opportunities to define our interests and seek complementary ventures, but the key word is complementary. With few exceptions we never chose to substitute our end game.

As college quickly comes to a close for the class of 2013, some of us are unemployed and completely at a loss as to what path to pick. It doesn’t have to and likely will not be the one we will travel forever. Yet we still have a choice to make. Many of us chose our next step as a way to bide time. I could not tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I don’t know what I want to do, but I’m working at [insert company here] for a year or two ‘til I get my MBA or figure out what I want.”

There in lies the problem. We never had to figure out what we want. You could argue that we did when we chose our area of study. But remind me how many biomedical engineers from Duke become consultants? Certainly our tastes or aspirations may have and will change. I still wonder how many of us pursue pastimes that inspire in us zeal.

Some of us are fortunate enough to know our passions. I have friends who invest their lives to film in hopes of becoming directors. Others will speak to the world through dance or search for new vaccinations in lab coat. They are a fortunate minority. Most of us have either experimented or sat idly coming up with nothing.

Those of us leaving Durham in five weeks need ask ourselves if our next chapter is going to be written by the expectations and standards of others or if we will draft our own script. Those staying behind should use your remaining time to question your current trajectory. Exist with intentionality and gusto. Duke has opportunities for you to explore, though most are not advertised well. You can find funding to do research abroad or begin a new social venture. If there’s something you want to try, ask because there is a way. 

Being lost is fine, as long as we’re conscious of it. In knowing our lack of direction, we are at least assured that we’re asking the right questions. Facing the, “Now what?” can be daunting, but don’t let it scare you into forfeiting the next X number of years to a safe system of predetermination.