When you start high school, the whole ballgame changes. You're the bottom of the hierarchy again as a freshman when in 8th grade you were king of the world. You have to start over. So you adjust, and you start over, and you make new friends and you work your way up until your senior year.
When you graduate high school, the whole world is in front of you. You have so many options, and you're expected to pick one. This is a huge life changing step. You can keep on keeping on in your home town, you can go to college near or far, you can join the military, you can travel, you can do anything you want. So you do. You pick a direction and you go for it.
For me, I chose college. So I moved to a new city, and into a sea foam green dorm with a potluck roommate, and I adjusted. I was happy with my choice and excited for my new life, and I loved it. And college continued, with new friends, great classes, parties, and epic memories.
Then you graduate college. For me, graduate school fell into my lap so I chose that route. I could have alternatively chosen to travel, do the traveling seasonal field technician route, or to get a full-time job instead. It's a time when another clear, well defined stage - college - is ending and you're expected to take direction.
So grad school it was. I went to grad school. I learned a lot about myself in those difficult 3 years. I suffered through the misery of writing a thesis, learned a lot about car mechanics, got really good at being self sufficient, and wrote wrote wrote. I also learned that I really hate statistics. But then seemingly before I knew it, it was graduation time again.
Each level of graduation is supposed to be a fork in the road where you make a new decision about your path in life. A graduation is here, so what is next? As you achieve more graduations up the ladder of life, there are fewer rungs on above you to achieve. I graduated grad school, and had fewer options ahead of me to choose from. I picked a seasonal job as far away from grad school as I could get. I went all the way to Maryland. I could have just traveled or searched for full-time jobs but I just wanted to get away from Baton Rouge. Once my seasonal gig was over, my next job fell through so I found myself no longer graduating up, but instead falling flat.
After that, I had a very distinct period of unemployment. That was not a happy summer. I got really good at writing cover letters and watching NCIS marathons. Not a proud summer in my distinct graduation ladder. I think everyone has a trying period in their lives where nothing seems to go right, and this was one of mine. Finally, I reached my next level - full time employment in my field.
Once you reach that level, what other graduations are there? Life is no longer defined in relatively short spurts anymore. It's not marked by a predictable but big life changing decision every 4 years. What do you do then?
Some could argue that big life changing decisions happen throughout your life. The decision to marry, to have kids, to switch jobs, to ultimately retire. And there are some decisions that aren't yours - you get fired, or get a promotion, or you are forced to relocate. None of these currently apply to me though. So now what?
Now I'm working my great job, but it's not a distinct stage anymore. There are no big forks in the road ahead. There is no graduation. Which makes me wonder - can we make our own life stage graduations?
I vote yes.
Maybe what I'm really craving in my life is that fork in the road. That ultimate split in my path that makes me decide what I want to do next. If nobody else is going to impose a fork in the road on me, maybe I need to do it myself. Life can't stay the same forever. Things change. Change is good. Change is growth. So when I finally find my fork in the road and I choose to make changes, it will be scary because sometimes change is scary. But when I think back to every time I've been scared about change in my life, it's ultimately been exactly what I needed.
When I moved to Wisconsin for a summer and showed up at my new workplace, that was terrifying. But it was a fun summer and I have a lifelong friend from that adventure. When I took off on my first big trip and it was overseas, I was terrified. But that month in Europe was amazing, and I dream of that Italian pizza all the time. And that is where I caught the wanderlust. When I moved to Maryland, bitter from grad school and ready for change, I was still terrified. That turned out to be a good job, and I learned even more about myself that spring. Also I still think about that job whenever I'm taxiing on an airplane - runway lights are white, taxiway lights are blue (fun fact).
Change is scary, but change makes you strong. I don't have any of those "normal" life stages coming up - there's no impending marriage or anything of that nature on the horizon. But I will find my fork in the road wherever it may be, and decide which way to go in my life. And I will be terrified, because that's how life goes. But that feeling goes away and soon fades into thrill and excitement at the new direction in life. So when I find my fork, you can watch me bounce excitedly down my new path and you're welcome to come with me if you want.