Living: What I’m Doing After Graduation

by: Mar Curran

With my recent graduation I am constantly being presented with the big question of, “So what are you going to do now?” This question is most often asked by well-meaning family members, coworkers, and fellow community organizers. They ask this with follow ups about going to graduate school, using my degree, paying off loans and buying a car like a “real adult.” Whenever I am asked this, my brow furrows.

For a long time I’ve struggled with the idea that there is one narrative that all people growing up follow the same linear path: you go to college, spend a few years working in the city and drinking cosmos/Miller Lite with your gal pals/dude bros, meet one person to spend your life with, get married, move to the suburbs and have kids by the time you’re 30, follow the same routine, take vacations in Florida, retire, die alone. I used to feel the edging in of a panic attack as a 15 year old, trying to figure out how that would give my life meaning in the box of supposed-to-be and forced-to-be. It took a long time to extract my mind from that narrative, and just because I have graduated from a university doesn’t mean I’m going to follow those other steps of a normal life.

Here is what I’m not going to do after graduating: I am not going to freak out because I don’t know what “career” I want to have. I will not think I am unsuccessful because I do not have an office job on the fast track to getting a 401k and a middle management position. I will not worry about getting a house in the suburbs with a nice enough lawn. I will not lament not being married and having children; I will also not rush to do these things just because they are things you’re supposed to do in society, as if the goal was just finding a person, not the right person(s). I won’t amass (more) credit card debt trying to keep up with other people’s spending. I won’t try to keep up with everyone else at all, hopefully. I will not ignore what I want and need because it’s not neatly packed into a box of what I’m supposed to want and need. I will not lie to myself every day about what those things are. I will not pretend I’m okay to keep up a facade of perfection.

Here, instead, is what I am going to do: I am going to dance to Group Love’s “Tongue Tied” in my underwear in the living room of my apartment on a Tuesday morning. I am going to go to my friends’ comedy shows, poetry readings, film screenings, birthday parties, nights in on the couch watching Girls and drinking wine, and private bedroom sobfests. I am going to work on growing a beard. I am going to continue to work on feeling confident dancing to R&B music sober in a club. I am going to bask in knowing and loving amazing people, and meeting more of them. I am going to drink too much, and drink too little, and drink the right amount, and in all those scenarios possibly wake up with Taco Bell and/or White Castle wrappers next to the couch I fell asleep on. I am going to kiss the people I have crushes on even though it scares the shit out of me to have feelings for them.

I am going to cut my hair off, then grow it out, then dye it blue, then cut it off again, rinse, repeat. I am going to have internal debates about using my money to pay bills or get a tattoo. I am going to write, and make zines, and cook, and paint, and give my friends derby names. I am going to try to become a vegan, which will be easier now that I have discovered vegan blue cheese. I am going to have feelings for all the wrong people and all the right people at the same time. I am going to become the person I want to be someday, and that idea of who I am or will be may change; I’m going to work on being okay with that. I am going to love myself and those around me so wholly that when we lock eyes “Feel So Close” starts playing around us like we’re in a romantic movie. I’m going to smile if I want to and not smile if I don’t,  and not panic (all the time), and keep moving forward at my own pace. I am going to be true to my own experience instead of what I am told I am.

Everyone’s life choices after leaving academia are valid, but that’s because they’re choices one has to make by one’s self and live with. I choose to live my life a little more free-form and open-ended than a lot of people may do, and that’s okay, just like it’s okay to choose to do things like move to the suburbs and get married and have children. Respect for each others’ life choices is key in these ways, because just like we wouldn’t want someone to pick our life paths for us we shouldn’t deem ourselves worthy of dictating others’ lives. We are all free to experience what we need to in order to become who we will someday be.

I find the question of what I’m going to do problematic only because it’s prompted by the idea that I’m not already doing something. I am living. Yes, I graduated, and now I am going to continue living. That is all we really can do sometimes, and that is an admirable enough goal for me as I have meaning, love, and purpose in my life.

Mar Curran is a trans/queer rights activist and community organizer; he is on the boards of Video Action league, Advocate Loyola, the Queer intercollegiate Alliance, and works with GetEQUAL. As spoken word artist, he has read at each All The Writers I Know event. He studies Communications and Women’s Studies at Loyola University Chicago. Curran likes beer and cats.

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4 responses to “Living: What I’m Doing After Graduation

  1. I have printed this out and magneted (not a word, don’t care) it to my refrigerator. I say “thank you for writing this” in a lot of comments on pieces, but in the most possible seriousness you could ever attach to the phrase: holy mother of vegan bleu cheese, thank you for writing this.

  2. This was really affirming in a “life is continuous and you are in the midst of it” sort of way. Thanks Mar, this was really uplifting.

  3. This is exactly what I needed to read right now. I am totally at this place in my life. Thank you. I am also going to print this out and magnet it to my fridge. So I don’t forget to work on my beard! 🙂

  4. “With my recent graduation I am constantly being presented with the big question of, “So what are you going to do now?” This question is most often asked by well-meaning family members, coworkers, and fellow community organizers.”

    This question used to do my head in. It was usually asked by a supercilious little so-and-so who honestly couldn’t care less about what my plans were, they just wanted to pass judgement on my plans. So many times I got hit with the raised eyebrow, the indulgent smile, the pitying sneer and, on one occasion when I actually felt inclined to defend my choices, “Well, you know best, as all teenagers do.”

    I was 21 at the time, but that’s beside the point.

    It’s one of my deepest regrets that I never turned round and said “Well, I’m planning on further study. I intend to sell all my possessions, move to San Francisco, enlist in Starfleet and join Captain Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise.”

    I have always believed that a stupid question deserves a stupid answer. And “So, what are your plans now?” is certainly a stupid question. Finding a job is hard, getting onto graduate schemes is hard and that vaguely threatening question is not going to be remotely helpful. And, as you say, the traditional route is not the only route. And going down a different route from the established norm doesn’t mean that others are entitled to see you as foolish or irresponsible. “Normal”, quite frankly, is something to be decided by the individual, not by those around you.

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