Do You Find Yourself Dreading Life After College?

by Dennis Charles on March 20, 2010

You are not alone. The fear of not knowing what you will be doing when your education finishes is a common one. It is due in large part due to the perception of what is available to you when you leave college. For more information about programs, visit: http://www.fourthwaveinstitute.com/

Perceived wisdom would have you thankful to get any entry-level job “in this economy”. Perceived wisdom suggests that you go where the money, the opportunities for advancement, the benefits and the security lie. This wisdom comes from several generations of pursuing what has come to be known as the “American Dream” of more and more material goods. Yet, what this has produced is a nation of over-consumers that are overweight and under-fulfilled. It is a nation of people who spend the week looking forward to 5:00 pm on Friday, and the weekend dreading the arrival of Monday morning.

There are some people, however, who love their work, find joy in what they do, and they have a sense of contribution to their local community. They lead lives of success, substance and significance. Let’s find out what is common amongst those people.

Firstly, they do not consider themselves to be “human resources” or part of a workforce who rely on others to provide them with a paycheck at the end of the week. Sure, many of them receive a paycheck (and many of them a very substantial one), but it is not the sole motivation of why they get out of bed in the morning. The have an “inner drive” that they follow, and they work for the sense of joy and excitement of producing their goods or service. There is a genuine desire that they have to be of service to others.

The second thing that they have in common is that they enjoy their work, and they find it challenging. It gets their creative juices flowing. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihahy has spent years studying what make people happy in their workplace. He has found that those people who enjoy what the do and find their work challenging, lead happy and productive lives and get a lot of satisfaction from their work. Conversely, he found that individuals whose work was not challenging, routine and mundane experienced high levels of boredom within their work. These people follow their passions, regardless of short-term securities.

Consider that once you leave college you will have at least 40 years as an adult in which to work. That is a very long time to be doing something that you simply do not enjoy. That is a lot of looking forward to 5:00 pm on Friday. It is a long time to spend wishing that you were doing something that you enjoy and find challenging.

Each society sends individuals within it messages about how to make their way in the world. In America today, this one is almost ubiquitous: Be a good child and you will please your parents. Be good at school and you will please your teacher. Work hard at following the instructions at school and you will get into a good college. Work hard at college, get good grades, and you will get a good job. Work hard at your job, and you will get a promotion. With your promotion, you will be able to be paid enough to buy the material goods that will make you and your family happy. You can then make sure that your children please you and learn how to please their teachers in school.

This theory seems nice enough, until you read the obituary columns of any newspaper. These are generally written about successful people who have led full and productive lives. If you look at them closely, you will find that none of them followed such a carefully prescribed path. You will read stories of millionaires who left school at 14, scientists who spent 15 years in college studying math who one day picked up a microscope and discovered a cure for a disease. You will read about politicians who greatly enhanced their local community, but who only went into politics because they were fired from seven other jobs. You will read about musicians who spent thousands of hours honing their skills and craft, but did not do their first public performance until they were in their sixties.

Rarely will you read about someone who leads a linear life- one that has distinct steps that follows a path prescribed by others. Those that do tend to make many compromises in their life, and tend not to make much of a contribution. These people get an inch or two in the obituary column. As Henry David Thoreau so eloquently said in the last century:

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them”.

Despite what educators would have you believe, there is no prescription to follow that will guarantee you success. There are no “average” students to measure yourself against- each person is different and needs to find their own path to their own definition of success. By choosing safety and security and following what the herd are doing, it makes sense that you dread life after college. Attempting to map your life out in a linear manner and have certain performance related goals in place, is a recipe for personal disaster, despite what many careers advisers will tell you. You may get security and comfort, but that will be at a huge cost- your physical, emotional and psychological well-being.

You can replace the dread with the possibilities and excitement that a well-lived life. It takes an immense amount of courage. Joseph Campbell called it the “Hero’s Journey”. It begins with one step – honestly answering the question “What do you want?” and then making the decision to move in that direction. For more information about the Hero’s journey, visit: http://www.mythonyc.com

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