This time of year, if you’re part of London’s student population you are likely to be found hidden between the bookshelves of libraries or slumped over a cup of the student union’s cheap filter coffee. When battling with piled papers or the tip-tap of the keyboard, graduation may seem like a distant cloud in the future. However, a new season looms, and whatever the stage of your studies, thinking and preparing is one way of beginning to make sure you approach graduation well.
For some, the coming months may be about travelling or interning, for some it may be about returning to your home town for the summer, and for others you may be trying to prepare for post-student life and all that entails. Wherever you are, the coming weeks signify a time of change, and as such, many experience the fizz of expectation, tempered by a tinge of fear. If you have made it to your final year, you are probably hearing the dreaded question, “So…what are you going to do when you graduate?” on the lips of most people you meet. Though it might be tempting to shy away from this question, being afraid does not change the steady spin of time, and dread will begin to steal the joy from your achievements. Ultimately, after years of studying the expectation is that after University, you just might have to find yourself something to do. And most of us want to do that ‘something’ well.
I think that when most people consider graduation the overwhelming suspicion is that you need to have your life organised, resolved and neatly packaged ready for opening once exams and essays are finished. Lay this idea down; you do not need to have your life sorted, and attempting to tie it up with ribbons and carefully chosen wrapping is just going to exhaust you. In reality such tidiness is an unrealistic expectation, and one that will rob you of the satisfaction of wrestling with, and constructing the life you want to try and live.
The Christian faith tells us that we are able to follow a God who has great purpose for our lives and is in control of how our circumstances unfold. Such knowledge has the ability to liberate us from a fear that we are insignificant, or without meaning. The invitation of Christianity is to a God of love, and a relationship of fulfilment through Him. In the midst of change and unknown futures, such knowledge speaks of a freedom from controlling our environment or solidifying all our plans. Instead, we are reminded that our first goal in life is to follow Jesus, not a career path.
Bearing this in mind, navigating the trail to and from graduation is less about ‘what’ you do, and more about ‘how’ you do it. You’re unlikely to traverse your degree and emerge perfectly equipped for your dream role, and so it’s about learning how to live a life that puts faith into practice and invests in what is important.
As you look at the open spaces before you, you need to know that there is no secret blueprint for the perfectly managed move out of studentdom. Instead, there are some principles, a couple of important pillars around which to build your life; humility and courage are just two of them. If you can cultivate these characteristics before you arrive on a stage in a cap and gown, pretend certificate in hand, you are likely to stumble out of student life hopeful, rather than confused.
Humility is the position of recognising that our own abilities and understanding are not wholly sufficient, and we may need help along the way. Humility tells us that we do not have to match unattainable levels of success and achievement immediately after leaving university, and instead persuades us to be kind to ourselves when life fails to resolve itself perfectly. Humility tells us that we can be content in any situation, not comparing ourselves to others, learning patience in the waiting. Humility tells us that it’s important and valuable to continue to invest in relationships, because that is where real treasure lies. And humility tells us that there is value in planning and preparation, working hard in the first years of studying, then again in the first years of employment, rather than assuming that opportunity just arrives like mail through the letterbox.
However, humility needs to be matched with courage, for this is the position of those who know they are loved by God. Perfect love casts out fear and draws us to a place of confidence. In such a space, courage gives us boldness to apply for positions that stretch us, to walk into interviews with confidence, though we may feel unsteady on our feet. Courage whispers again, and again, that the unexpected is worth attempting, and that a second chance is worthwhile. Courage keeps us hoping that God is an expert at bringing beauty out of chaos.
So put aside your fear, and put down that red bull (it’s not going to help you study, sorry) and turn your head and hands to untangling your hopes and spinning them into plans, held up by a knowledge that when it comes to graduation, perfection is fleeting, and a bit of adventure is everything.