Let’s stop asking people what they’re doing with their lives.

‘So what are your plans now?’ It’s the fifth time I’ve heard this question in the space of a week. Despite finishing my tertiary studies last October, the fact that I’ve only just had my graduation ceremony means that all the questions are flooding in again.

‘I’m taking the gap year I should have had after high school’. My reply is generally spoken through a clenched smile, as I try to fight the urge to explain to people that wearing a hat and a gown for a day doesn’t give you an immediate insight into what the rest of your life will hold.

Truth be told, this ‘year off’ was meant to be a way to avoid these questions, despite knowing that they were inevitable. I was even asking them of myself, so of course i would get them from others. I figured that telling people my grand plans of travel would make it look like I had an idea of what I was doing. Instead, I’m now just getting ‘but what will you do when you get home?’. By the time I do ‘get home’ from my European summer, I will still be 22 years old. I’ll have barely started my life, yet I still have this awful knot of anxiety about where it will end up.

As a society, we are so caught up in the concept that we have to go somewhere with our lives. Especially on the back end of four years at uni, I have felt a constant pressure that in my lifetime I need to develop a career of sorts. We are made to feel we have to constantly achieve and progress, and so often it can lead us to be so unhappy.

My issue is that in spite of knowing that what I’m good at, what I like doing, and what I (somehow) managed to become qualified in all overlap, I still feel that I will forever be inadequate. I still feel that I have to explain my plans to others, as though at this stage in my life I should have it all mapped out. And I still feel that no matter my answer, it will never be enough for some people.

I was recently given a grilling by a lady I’d met only ten minutes earlier about the fact that I’d taken a year off to have some time to myself. A complete stranger asked me what my dream job was, and then told me that it’s not good enough that I’m not pursuing it immediately. As though I didn’t want it badly enough, that I didn’t really care. Someone I had never spoken to before blatantly implied that the path I am currently walking on is inadequate.

As human beings, we should be not only capable of having more than one aspiration, but encouraged to follow each and every one with equal importance and determination. We should be carving out the path for future generations, and allowing them to understand that you can do whatever you want to do – no matter what that is.

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I want to work – of course I do. I dream that one day I will land that job that I absolutely adore, and can go to work feeling proud of myself every day. But is that dream more important than my desire to travel the world? Or my want to one day build a house? Or even my burning desire for a golden retriever named Toast? No. Absolutely not. Each and every dream that you hold as an individual are all as important as the one before it, because at the end of the day, achieving these dreams will hopefully set you on a path to happiness. And if we can all dream to be happy within our selves and our lives, then I’d say we’re pretty damn accomplished.

Please remember that if you are unsure of your future plans, you are not alone. If you feel pressured to achieve and succeed (even if you are placing that pressure on yourself), you have already achieved so much. You will succeed, and you will be great. Just because our lives sometimes don’t end up how we expected them to, it doesn’t make our paths any less worthwhile.

We need to realise that the approach we may have to a conversation may genuinely induce a whole lot of stress. I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about one another, but we, as a society, need to understand that each and every person is on their own journey, and no matter what their destination (or how they decide to reach it), their happiness and sanity are forever the most important factor. Ask questions, but be mindful. Care, but be thoughtful in your approach.

The average life expectancy for an Australia female is 82 years old. At 22, I’m barely scratching the surface of what I may achieve in my lifetime. And at 32, 52 or 72 years old, I still may very well have no idea what I’m doing with myself. But the important thing is that I’m working toward and focusing on my own personal happiness. And in the end, that’s all you should be focused on too.

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