I’ve attended several college graduation celebrations over the last few weeks. After the congratulatory remarks, the ultimate question quickly sneaks up. “So what are you going to do now?” Some of the kids seem to have a pretty good roadmap at hand. Grad school seems to be a pretty popular option. A few–a very few–have a job lined up in their chosen field. Many are securing interim work while they develop their careers. That’s also a popular answer in today’s economy.
For those not continuing on in higher education, I sense a vague unease when asked the question. This is often the first time these grads have achieved a huge milestone and the next step, for the first time, is now up to them. The problem is that the path is not clearly laid out and marked with easy-to-read roadside instructions. The good news for this group is that with youth comes a great deal of opportunity and inspiration. There are so many possibilities, and just imagining what is could be achieved with a life is exhilarating even if it is a little unnerving.
The thing the class of 2012 may not realize yet is that this question that is so popular during graduation season never really goes away. I’ve met so many people in business who seem to have everything going for them. They have climbed that ladder, reached their goals, and have very successful careers with all the seductive trappings. They’ve reached and crushed milestone after milestone, and have achieved a type of security that comes with a proven track record. Their resumes look great and are designed to impress.
They didn’t realize however, that halfway through their careers that question would still be lurking. And it has a nagging urgency when you begin to sense that time may not be completely on your side any more. I recently reconnected with a colleague I hadn’t spoken with in several years. After catching up and learning that I had changed fields after twenty-five years, she said it gave hope to those, herself included, who felt stuck in their jobs, but felt at this point there was no use in trying something new. By now, the stakes are too high. It is best just to compromise and continue along the path until retirement.
What it comes down to is this: a lot of people with established careers and full personal lives still feel like something is missing. What had satisfied them before doesn’t cut it any longer. They aren’t certain what to do to end each day feeling like it was one that was well lived instead of one just survived. The ultimate question still lurks—so what do I do now?
The good news is that you don’t have to quit your job, donate all your belongings, and move to a cave to make satisfying changes. One way to experience satisfaction is to look at your life, determine what is truly important to you, and act congruently with those beliefs. Simple, right? Well, maybe not so simple, but the point is that personal fulfillment is possible and worth pursing at any age. Shifts in attitude and perception can open the door to whole new way of experiencing life.
Determining what is personally important and acting accordingly is one way to initiate lasting positive changes. When you can do that, ending each day with a sense of fulfillment and individual satisfaction is virtually guaranteed.
And being able to do that is a great answer to that question—at any age.