If you’re anything like me, you’ve had a to-do list since high school.
High school diploma, check. University acceptance, check. Participate in extra-curricular activities, check. Maintain good marks for grad school, check. Earn degree, check. But now what?
What followed for me was a break in the list, a quarter-life crisis of sorts. Taking a year off was always a pipe dream in which I imagined myself backpacking across Europe, carefree. But it was never something I thought I would actually do. Pragmatism prevailed and I always returned to comfort and security: Complete my undergrad and begin graduate school.
When I decided to take the year off, the freedom was exhilarating. But it was equally terrifying. What would I do without a fixed schedule telling me what I should be doing? How would I deal with feelings of un-productivity (even inadequacy), especially once September rolled around and my friends either returned to school or started full-time jobs?
What I soon realized, however, after several panicked conversations with friends and family, was that maybe this was a blessing in disguise. This would be the year I would use to do the things I never had the time to do when I was studying full-time. This would also be the year I would decide whether the career I desired was right for me.
Volunteer work doesn’t have to end with your 40 hours required for high school. It can be a great way to explore new career options and even network. If you’re unsure about a career in teaching, for example, pay a visit to your old high school or elementary school and ask your favourite teacher if you can shadow his or her classroom. They might even let you be a guest lecturer for the day if you show enough enthusiasm and initiative.
If it’s in your first year that you realize life isn’t a beach, you try to forget your academic woes by spending reading week in sun-drenched Cuba or the Dominican Republic. But travel can be a much more rewarding option if you’re willing to open yourself up to a new culture and explore places less treaded.
Madelaine Bart, 22, recently graduated from Queen’s University with a degree in English and psychology and is headed to South Korea on a one-year contract to teach English. “I’ve always thought about teaching, but it’s not necessarily what I want to do when I get back,” says Bart. “I’m definitely going to get some teaching experience, try something new, get away for a year, travel, learn more about myself and meet new people. It’s especially appealing to me because this is giving me something exciting to do after university and a new adventure to look forward to.”
Don’t wait around for a job or school or an internship to help you build your portfolio. Start doing it now. If you are an aspiring photographer, take photographs. If you are an aspiring web designer, lend your expertise to friends and family. In any case, try to make use of the Internet to showcase your personal brand. Your portfolio is what will set you apart from your competitors.
Pay off your student loans. Whether you’ve borrowed money from the bank or the government, read the fine print so you’re aware of how much needs to be paid and when you need to pay it by. If you have credit card debt, make sure you pay those off, putting as much money toward them as is feasible. These debts have higher interest rates so try to eliminate them as soon as possible.
Take classes to build your skills at your local community centre, college or university. The University of Toronto, for example, offers Continuing Education classes where you can “learn a new language, explore the liberal arts or expand your professional credentials.” Even if the skills you’re looking to acquire aren’t career-related, you never know when it could come in handy. Your hobby could even turn into a job.
If there were ever a time to make goals, it would be now. You have the time, the resources and, if you’re working, the money. If you’re a pen and paper kind of person, write down those goals and stick it somewhere visible. If you prefer having it on your desktop, there are myriad of to-do list applications on the web to aid you in your goal-making endeavours.