The Life Plan Conundrum

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As a young woman in her 20s, one of the frequent questions I get asked in my encounters with people is, “So, what next? What’s the plan?”. For the uninitiated, this essentially indicates an inquiry into one’s professional life/career goals. I have faced it, my friends have faced it, you probably have faced it, and we have all joked about those dreaded career questions at some point.

Now, I understand there is a natural intrigue in this area of a young graduate’s life, simply because its brimming with professional promise and possibilities. But these questions come loaded with expectations. The people at the receiving end of these questions often perceive an unsaid pressure to be able to give a satisfactory reply. And this satisfactory reply almost always is hustle culture associated, such as a job offer/position, acceptance into a higher study program etc. Anything apart from this is met with rather unsavory reactions. Responses such as taking time off to explore creative outlets or focusing on one’s body/mental well-being are almost invariably followed by reactions like “Yes, all those are fine, but what are your real plans?”.

This is quite likely a ripple effect of the highly competitive job market, seasoned with the professional achievements and milestones of one’s contemporaries, which could really make one feel the pressure. Believe me, it gets to the best of us. It further creates this corollary where activities that aren’t bringing in monetary benefits are seen as secondary.

I understand the professional aspect of life is an important one because of the financial independence and stability it brings and as such, it is worth aspiring and planning for. But we often tend to lose sight of the fact that a career is an aspect of life and not our entire life. A lot of other factors intertwine with financial stability to give us life satisfaction. Have you ever considered how by disregarding the non-monetary activities, we could be inadvertently discrediting the very activities that help develop important facets of us? The ones that contribute towards the formation of a holistically developed human being.

If the Covid pandemic has taught us anything important, it is the significance of wellness and health. Life is unpredictable, and wellness, as an active pursuit towards health and happiness, is worth striving for. Any activity that gets one’s happy hormones pumping surely deserves to be seen as a legitimate goal.

There is no single satisfactory reply to the life plan question. There shouldn’t be. Some of us are raring to go at our careers, some looking for ways to cope with earlier trauma, some on a quest to find ourselves through new experiences and so on. At the end of the day, we all have our own battles to fight.

No one shouldn’t be made to feel like they are missing out for doing something they find peaceful. And for what, because it doesn’t include the path carved out by a vast majority of people? The “normal” path, with all its age-related milestones of having to achieve “this” much by “this” age, is nothing but an option that happens to be followed by a statistically high number of people. That does not make it right or wrong. It is just a choice.

From my experience as a young psychology graduate facing this very situation, I realize that challenging these widespread notions requires unlearning and relearning at an individual level. We often find ourselves subconsciously and unwittingly conditioned by popular societal views that we may personally find disturbing. Having a deeper understanding of oneself and one’s needs, goals, and hopes further inculcates an inner sense of purpose, which might help build resilience to counter such external situational challenges.

The key lies in identifying unhelpful patterns of thought and addressing them. While some of us may be comfortable doing this by ourselves, others may require assistance in discovering themselves further. Individual needs and goals vary, and as such, reaching out to professionals can very well be the next step in your self-growth journey.

So, here’s to us becoming well-informed, self-aware individuals, who encourage and support each other in the journey towards becoming the best versions of ourselves, not just in our professional endeavors, but in all our personal goals as well.

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