The Couch Moments

Student Contributer

By the time you read this, all but a handful of you will be where I was a year ago: done. After four years of papers, tests, presentations and grades, it’s an odd feeling. As the four-year train ride of college grinds to a final halt, most of us step out onto the platform to find that we’ve only the vaguest idea of where we’re heading next. I’m here to tell you that looking back a year later, that’s a very, very good thing.

When I got home with my diploma, I was about as stressed as I’ve ever been. I’d earned national finalist status in three separate fellowships . . . and been turned down for all three. Everyone at graduation asked me what my plans were, and my shoulders slumped a little more every time I answered that I didn’t know. In a few weeks I was laying on my parent’s couch, jobless, angry that I didn’t have the answers and convinced that I should know what to do with my life.

Believe me, whether you’re setting out for an internship or a job, whether you’re traveling or doing Teach for America, whether you’re unemployed or taking a full ride to graduate school, you’re going to have these “couch moments” eventually. But as a few friends recently pointed out to me, even if you could plot your life out at 23, why would you want to?

Robert Goheen once wrote of leaving college that, “If you feel that you have both feet planted on level ground, then the university has failed you.”  The successful graduate, I’ve come to believe, is not the one who leaves with answers, but with the greatest drive to keep exploring. Frankly, “What am I going to do with my life?” isn’t a question we can answer at our age. Rather, the question to ask is, “What do I want to do NOW, and what do I want to try NEXT?”

The world is full of people who think they have life figured out and want to tell you too. Why listen? Right now, most of us have no kids, no mortgage and nothing tying us to a particular place or profession. We have a brief window where we’re truly free to explore.

With no regular job to occupy me, I ended up taking a stand-up comedy class. I was initially terrified (fear is a great compass), but I ended up loving it. That experience gave me the confidence to volunteer to speak at a student libertarian conference. It was nerve wracking, but I ended up meeting and impressing the man who just became my boss. Know what I do now? I just became the director of operations for a non-profit that teaches libertarianism in camps all around the world. At the end of the month I leave for Slovokia and Poland, all thanks to just one chance I would never have taken had I landed a regular job, and surrendered the need to explore.

So my advice to you is this: Fight, for as long as you are able, the desire to seek routine. Explore every odd hobby, every interesting job opportunity and every quirky relationship that you get a chance at. Fail a little, so you can figure out what doesn’t work for you. You’ll discover opportunities and things about yourself that will shock you. Just make your best guess as to what decision or action will most help you flourish, and take it. Repeat as necessary. You’ll find that most of your choices are less about picking paths than about overcoming fear.

So whether it’s days, weeks, months or years before you find yourself in a “couch” situation, remember this: You don’t succeed by knowing more than others. You succeed by being willing to risk living the most, with both the pain and the promise that involves. Someone may ask you that dreaded question at graduation “so what are you going to do now?” When you tell them you’re not sure, stand up straight, look them in the eye, and smile.

By Roman Goerss