Winter Break and the Rest of Your Life

 

It’s so close, you can almost taste it. There’s a bite in the air, that promise of freedom, sweet freedom, in just a few short days and a few long finals. And thanks to all the snow that decided to show up on Friday night, you can’t help but have visions of sugarplums (or you know—some Christmas food people actually eat these days) dancing in your head when you should be memorizing key terms and formulas, or finishing up the last three pages of that term paper. Or last eight pages. Anyway, who’s counting?

Yes, winter break is just around the corner, and this year UM has granted us a full six weeks for the occasion. Plenty of time to sleep, work; maybe knock out some credits or a general education requirement over Winter session. Most of us are probably going to see our folks over the holidays, and while it’s wonderful to spend time with family, there are probably some questions you’re dreading being asked. You know the kind. Whether you’ve just finished your semester of college, are planning to graduate this spring, or are anywhere in between, you’ll probably be asked…future questions. I know, I know. They’re the kind of things that make me go all Gingy-from-Shrek-style, as though Lord Farquad himself had me in his torture chamber to ask what I plan on doing with my degree: “NOOO!! Not the questions! Not the future questions!”     

   

But take heart! You don’t have to break down and start incoherently babbling about the muffin man in response. While you probably can’t assemble a ten year plan for how your life is going to go once you have your degree, you can spend a little time over winter break thinking about how you can use the remainder of your time in college to prepare for what adventures might come next. I know it might be more comfortable to pull the college covers over your head and refuse to think about what’s going to come next, but that method never works for me when I try to use it to avoid studying. And just as with studying, finding that what I’m putting off out of fear isn’t that scary or mystifying after all is just a matter of choosing to do the thought-work instead of hiding from it. Maybe you have no idea what you want to do after you have your degree in hand. So, take a little time over winter break to ask yourself.

Don’t start with some big, terrifying question like, “What do I want to do with my life?” Leave that to the relatives.  A life is hopefully a very long thing, and you will probably want to do many things with it. Like adopt a pet, or land a contract, or floss. Instead, try to be a little bit more specific. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Who do you know who seems to really enjoy what they do? Talking with people who are passionate about their careers is one of the best ways to find out if you could be passionate about the same kind of things. Plus, people who love what they do often are excited to get more people involved in their field, and may be able to help you start networking.
  2. What kinds of fields do people with your degree typically work in? Talking with faculty and departmental advisors can be a great way to get some ideas about fields that require the skills your degree has given you (or will have given you once you complete it).
  3. In the basement of the Lommasson Center, there exists a magical realm in which you can take skills assessments, learn about different career fields, and develop your interpersonal skills with practice job interviews. This place is called Career Services, and it is staffed with wonderful people who can’t wait to help you face the adventure that is your life. Check out their website, or visit them during their walk-in hours Monday through Wednesday from 2  to 4 p.m., and Thursdays from 10 to 12 p.m. They can also talk to you about graduate school programs and the necessary preparatory tests that different programs require.

Thinking about the future will probably send smidges of terror up and down your spine at first, but it’s one of those things that gets easier with practice. And the more you practice, the better able you’ll be to imagine a viable future that’s both realistic and awesome (and no, those are not mutually exclusive adjectives). You are amazing, and you have amazing stuff to do in this world. Take some time over winter break to think about what that stuff might be. And when the relatives ask those future questions, and you have no idea what to say, say this: “Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of research on promising career fields that require my particular skill sets.” And before they can ask what exactly your skill sets are, follow up with, “Which reminds me—I’ve been meaning to ask you. How’d you get into your field?” Conversation Win. Stay classy, ladies.