In a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, each page gives you a choice, each of which directs you to a specific page to continue the story, and another choice, leading to another page, until you’ve closed the book. If you did it “right,” then you picked just one of the several storylines that the book offered and followed it to the end.
This model matches how we expect the transition from college to work to go: you apply to grad school OR you apply for jobs. You get a job through the campus career fair recruiting process OR you apply for other kinds of jobs. You pursue positions in industry X OR industry Y. You make a series of branching choices that lock you into your destiny.
Life does not work like that.
You’ll have decisions to make, and they’ll lead to new choices. However, nothing locks you into a specific “Adventure” that excludes the other predetermined storylines. You’re writing the story, and you get to decide what your choices mean. The story will be coherent if you go backwards and try the option you passed up the first time. It will make sense if you embark on two different paths at once. And you may on occasion finding yourself facing a blank page that you have to fill yourself.
This feature of life has always been true, but it becomes even more so during this global pandemic, when rising unemployment and economic stability are reshaping the job market. The choices that you make to stay afloat financially, help your loved ones, or respond to the pressures of the moment may not be consistent with advancing down what you thought would be your career path. That’s okay.
There are jobs to apply for, and you should apply for them. But the pre-COVID19 economy of record low unemployment and high growth is gone, and no one knows yet what is replacing it.
The familiar sequence (job ad –> application –> full time salaried position –> promotion) may no longer be the shape of your post-college career path.
It may be cluster of simultaneous activities and projects, some paid and some not. It might mean working a non-professional service job while you pursue opportunities related to your professional goals. It may be using your leadership skills to meet the needs you see round you, whether that means starting your own socially distanced business, organizing a community rent strike, or creating a YouTube series.
What You Can Choose: Your Priorities
There may be things you can’t do right now because of the global pandemic. Your chosen field of interest may have ceased to exist, your internship may been terminated, you may be in lockdown in a place that doesn’t offer the opportunities you want. That’s right now. The things that matter to you don’t go away just because acting on them doesn’t look the way you expected it to. You can do what you need to get through this moment AND move towards a life that has meaning for you — but you can only do that if you give yourself space to acknowledge your values, so that you can recognize relevant opportunities when they arise.