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On a sunny afternoon, my parents and I were seated in the leisure of our deck, periodically glancing at the vegetable garden we had planted just days ago while sipping steaming cups of chai.  Despite the pride that swelled in my chest when I caught sight of the blooming squash flowers and the sprouting arugula, and despite the familiar and soothing flavors of black tea and cardamom, I couldn’t find it in myself to appreciate the warmth and simplicity of that moment.

Just a few days before, my academic advisor revealed that it would be possible for me to finish my degree next May and graduate a year early. Upon hearing this kind of news, most people would be thrilled at the prospect of having an extra year to travel, explore their interests or jumpstart their career. I, on the other hand, went into a state of panic. Why? Good question. Because I can’t stand the idea of not knowing what I’m going to do next.

Although I had a few ideas in mind about my post-grad life, I didn’t necessarily have a 10-year plan (or even a 5-year plan, for that matter) that was supposed to outline all of my monumental career developments or personal milestones. At the very least, I thought I could feel secure in knowing my graduation date. But when that changed, it began to feel like life was starting to move a bit too quickly. It felt like I had to start finding answers to questions I didn’t think I would have to consider for a while. And suddenly, full-fledged adulthood felt much closer than I thought.

My first instinct was to turn to other people for answers. I talked to friends, advisors and mentors in hopes of receiving advice or guidance that would give me some kind of clarity. Unsurprisingly, however, most of the suggestions I received were either painfully ambiguous or simply didn’t resonate with me. It wasn’t until I offhandedly brought up the subject with one of my professors did I realize how skewed my approach was. Instead of lecturing me about the importance of productivity and structured time or telling me that the world is my oyster, he simply said: “Just do something interesting.”

I can’t explain why, exactly, that made something click in my head. It quickly dawned on me that instead of trying to identify the things and experiences that I really want from my life, I was turning to other people so that they could decide for me. I was so afraid of wasting this valuable time by choosing to do the “wrong” thing that I was willing to live by someone else’s definition of “productive” or “interesting.” And instead of leaning into the general uncertainty of life and embracing opportunities as they come, I wanted to dampen the experience by settling for flimsy and arbitrary solutions that coincided with someone else’s expectations or ambitions.

The epiphany reminded me that some of my greatest accomplishments and successes are ones that happened on a whim. Unexpected opportunities presented themselves, and I seized them. I didn’t plan them — they just sort of happened. That’s not to say that I won’t continue researching different options and seeking the advice of other people, but that I’ll continue to remind myself that it’s okay to be uncertain.

For now, I want to concentrate on the moments I have right now: afternoons spent drinking chai and gardening with my parents, early-morning walks through the park, Zoom dates and virtual watch parties with my best friends, etc. Preoccupying myself with all the possibilities of the future and searching for answers only detract from the joy of those wonderful moments. 

Soon enough, the answers will come. Eventually, everything will start to make sense. Until then, I’ll be here enjoying the ride.

Niki is a third-year student at UMKC pursuing double majors in history and English along with a minor in film studies. Outside of writing and re-watching her favorite Tom Cruise movies, you can find her listening to audiobooks while on strolls through the park or walks around her neighborhood. She enjoys talking about travel, literature, health, wellness, and skincare and can never turn down a good cup of tea.
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