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Take it from me: You need to figure out what comes next (part 2)

Regular tips and advice to help you better navigate young adulthood from someone who had to learn some of this stuff (way too much of this stuff) the hard way

Many of you are quickly approaching important life milestones like high school, two-year, or four-year college graduations or end of a job’s or service year’s term. If you’re one of those people, first of all, congratulations on your accomplishment! Second of all, you’ve probably been asked things like what will you do next several times, and you may or may not have an answer to that question (or may or may not have changed your answer over time). Whether you’re about to reach one of these milestones or are just at a point in your life where you’re looking for a change, this post will (hopefully) help you think about your next steps, learn more about some of the many options you can choose from, and help you come to a decision that you will be happy with. So, the question is: to school, or not to school?

This post will focus on different ideas if you do not plan on going to school in the next year or so but are still trying to figure out your next step.

…or not to school:

Not everyone wants to go right back to school after graduation, and that’s fine too. Here are some things you can do either while taking a breather from school or do in lieu of school altogether. Some of these will need more pre-planning than others and some of these options’ availability will depend on things like COVID restrictions and geo-political issues, but depending on your lifestyle or goals, all of these are doable options.

Gap Year Options

If you’re just looking to take some time off before beginning the next stage of your education, if you’re looking for something to do once you’ve finished up, or looking to start fresh, taking a year to do something else can give you enough time to clear your head.

 Service Year (AmeriCorps, CityYear, etc.):

One-year service years provide hundreds of opportunities in several fields across the States. Whether you’re stuck and are unsure of which path to take or know exactly what you want to do and gain some real-life experience while giving back, service opportunities like the ones here in AmeriCorps, in CityYear, and others are a great way to get the best of both worlds. Application season is going on now, so if this sounds like something that may interest you, go ahead and plan to apply soon so you’ll have time to go through the application and interview process and find out where you’ll go in enough time to get to where you’ll serve.


Travel Domestically:

If you’ve always wanted to travel, why not go for it? Will it cost you money? Absolutely, but in the age of remote work and the ability to access WiFi almost anywhere, who says you have to stay in one place? Some have gone full-on #vanlife and have converted their vehicles into living spaces while others go from campsite to campsite and stay in tents, cabins, or other accommodations. You can also look up things like short-term accommodations, co-ops, and hostels/boarding houses so you’ll have a place to stay as you travel. If you think you may want to stay someplace else for a little while, you can also apply for short-term employment opportunities and temp positions so that you can afford the time off and any incidentals that may pop up along the way.

Travel Internationally :

Again, this will take some time to plan as well as upfront costs, but you can also take a year’s long break and travel to another or several countries either on your own or through an organization. If you do wish to travel on your own, make sure you research the places you plan to visit to find out where you can stay, explore, and how you can legally earn money if you won’t be traveling using money you’ve already saved up. And be sure to keep in touch with at least one person from home who can handle things like your bills while you’re away.

Unique opportunities include companies like Remote Year provide adults with the opportunity to travel, live, and work internationally. Terms last from a week to a year, so there are several options available if you’re hoping to travel internationally. If this sounds like something you might be interested in doing, start the research/saving process now so that by the time your trip is set to depart, you’ll be ready to go.

Additionally, you could consider completing a TEFL certificate if you’re interested in teaching English as a foreign language outside of the U.S. There is a cost involved, so you may need to save up, but many reputable options with a good record of placing their certificate completers in jobs all over the world often have discounted prices if you check at the right time (I earned my 120-Hour Certificate from The TEFL Org and hope to use it to work with newly arrived immigrants and refugees and to one day serve in the Peace Corps), but other reputable companies offering online and in-person courses and job boards for program graduates work just fine as well. Just make sure you research post-completion opportunities and make sure you sign up for at least the 120-hour course because that’s the minimum requirement for most hiring companies. Once you finish the program, you can apply for remote or in-person positions. If you don’t have a passport or need to get it renewed, you’ll need to do that as well, but depending on the company that hires you, they will also include accommodations and help to get your Work Visa settled so you’ll have a place to stay and the right to work in the country you’ll be teaching in.

Long-Term Options

If you’re looking for something to do for more than just a year, there are options for you as well.

Teach for America: a domestic multi-year service opportunity, those who participate in Teach for America train to teach are assigned to a school in need (usually in a rural or urban setting) and provide training to receive a temporary teaching license. Those who complete their service term will often become fully certified to teach during the two-year term, but this could depend on where you’re assigned. This particular opportunity is for college graduates, but if you want to teach or work with children or teens, this could be a good opportunity for you.

Peace Corps: for first-time volunteers, most serving options are twenty-seven months long (the first three months, you’ll train for your position and then you’ll ). Again, things look different due to COVID, but if this idea interests you, you can get a jump on things by finding out where interesting serving opportunities are located, making sure your shot records are up-to-date, getting a passport, and finding out what all you’ll need for the application process.

Military: the armed forces continue to provide different paths for young adults who wish to serve their country like the Reserves, National Guard, or Active Duty. Please note the commitment involved with making such a decision, but if you’re interested in joining one of the military branches, reach out to a recruiter or someone you know who has served to find out more about the requirements and commitment involved as well as the opportunities and training it could provide you.

Job/paid internship: most of us have to work to earn enough money to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, but wouldn’t it be nice if you were at a job that you actually enjoy and look forward to going to/logging on to? If you’re ready to enter the workforce or remain in the workforce but aren’t content with your current job, check out what opportunities are available and that you meet the requirements for. See something you like but don’t meet the requirements? Find out what you need to do so you do.

It may take some time if you need to earn a certificate or take a course or two in the field you’re hoping to move to, but you could at least begin the research/preparation process now if you know you’re not a job with long-term prospects. If you’re looking to get into a new field altogether, an internship could be a good first step. With many internships now being part-time and paid, it could give you a taste of what a job in a new field could offer and enough experience to decide whether you want to take the next step or choose a different path to take.

So, to school or not to school? That is the question. 

What’s the answer? Well, that’s for you to figure out, but one way that you can do so is to think about how you envision your life and future turning out. It can be daunting to think about your life one year, five years, or even ten years into the future, but seeing yourself in the future can help you become more intentional now about what you’re doing, studying, and learning. You can do this by looking up people in a role or roles that you can see yourself wanting to fill in the future via LinkedIn, websites, or company web pages, actually reaching out to someone to learn how they got to where they got via phone, LinkedIn, or email if that contact information is available or easily accessible, or even by thinking about what paths you absolutely do not want to explore (subtracting obviously ill-fitting options can help you clarify what you could see yourself doing). Don’t just make a decision about the school you attend, what you major in, or what job you apply for because you feel pressured by friends, parents, or families. This is your life, so you have to figure out what works best for you. If you go the school route, it is also most likely at least some of your money (or your promise to pay back money if you take out loans), so you have the right to invest your money where you feel will provide you with the right tools to succeed in the next phase of your life.

If your original plan turns out not to be the right one for you, you should absolutely reassess and change course when you can. A lot of people my age and older are returning to school, entering into new training/certificate programs, and just jumping into new things and hoping for the best because what we majored in or what we began doing as a career no longer fit our goals, passions, or stages of life.

If you can learn anything from us (please learn from us so you don’t repeat our mistakes and bad decisions…please): find a way to meld your passions, interests, and goals with a way to earn a living the best you can because the regret of not doing so is far worse than ruffling a few feathers along the way. It may not feel like it now when you’re still in the middle of everything, but trying to please others or fulfill others’ expectations of you is not worth the misery, depression, and the physical or emotional toll created by trying to please others instead of living authentically. It may end with strained or no-longer-functioning/existing relationships (it did with me), but as long as you’re making steps in the right direction towards becoming a self-sufficient and self-actualized young adult, those who truly love and support you for you instead of seeing you as a means to fulfill their goals and dreams will readjust their expectations and be there for you. If you’re around the latter or around people whose love and support come with conditions, then that’s neither love nor support. And nothing you do now is going to be enough for them. You’re not living their lives; you’re living yours. So, please, live it. You only get the one.

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