As a second-semester senior, I stand staring at the myriad of “what-ifs” on the doorways to my future. The cap and gown that I hold in my hands symbolize the many years of hard work that I put forward — radiating a sense of potential. Amid the celebrations and excitement, the “what-ifs” echo in the back of my mind — not as daunting uncertainties, but as beacons guiding me toward a future full of promise.
My first “what-if” is one that I have continued to battle the entire time I have been at Notre Dame. What if I did not pick the right major and am unhappy with my career? I have changed my major time and time again at Notre Dame, ranging from neuroscience & behavior to ceramics and to my seemingly final destination, visual communication design (with a few other majors in between). Each major change came with that same what-if, wondering if I made the right decision. After four years, this what-if is no longer met with trepidation, but instead a spark of excitement. Whether or not I studied the “right” major, the knowledge that I have cultivated these past four years is a powerful compass in navigating the world ahead of me. It is an affirmation that my academic journey was not just a means to an end, but a foundation that allows me to build and grow into a purposeful career.
My second “what-if” comes from my love of structure and a booked and busy Google Calendar. What if I follow the path that is laid out before me? I can see my future ahead of me: I go to graduate school, enter the workforce and live a corporate and comfortable life. This well-worn map promises me the stability and predefined trajectory that I crave to have in my life. I don’t think that stability always has to equal stagnation. Instead, it serves as a stable platform from which I can jump into expiration and growth, having wisdom from both successes and failures.
My third “what-if” opposes this idea completely. What if I embrace the uncharted territories? The allure of the unconventional calls to me when I think of my post-graduate life, the idea of veering off of the beaten path and changing course completely. I like the idea of being able to make a mark in spaces that are untouched, living a life that overflows with innovation. In this life, the unknown isn’t a source of anxiety, but instead is a canvas where I can paint my own unique narrative with colors pulled from courage, resilience and the willingness to play with the unfamiliar.
My fourth “what-if” is more of a whisper in the back of my mind. What if I prioritize my passions over the idea of practicality? I love art, and I love creating. My dream is to own my own combination of a coffee shop and ceramics studio, where I teach classes and bake to pass the time. This what-if encourages me to seek a path that resonates with my heart instead of being driven by the pragmatic. It invites me to pursue not just a career but a vocation, where my daily endeavors are fueled by passion. This balance between practicality and passion seems delicate, but I find it to be a dance worth mastering.
My fifth “what-if” moves away from a career-centric lens and is instead more of a mantra for post-graduate life. What if I focus on my own growth and self-discovery? Since I am still not completely sure what the next years of my life will hold, this time outside of the Notre Dame academic bubble is the perfect time to explore new interests, nurture relationships and cultivate a more holistic sense of well-being. Maybe I will really follow through with my dreams of running a marathon, maybe I will pick up another artistic hobby. This what-if is more of a reminder that my life extends beyond what I can accomplish in a career. The pursuit of personal evolution is not just a choice but a responsibility to myself.
My sixth “what-if” is brought on by a guiding principle, something that I want to lean into more in my life. What if I embrace failure as a stepping stone to success? As an art student, I am genuinely so scared of failure. The idea that my work would be unsuccessful in some way or be critiqued harshly during the process is always in the back of my mind when I create. Rather than dread failure, I want to see failure as an extension of the classroom where resilience is cultivated, lessons are learned and my character is truly brought to life. Every stumble I’ve ever made has always led me to a cataclysmic moment of growth.
My seventh and last “what-if” comes from one of my first columns. What if I had put Michael Masten on the “hot” list instead of “honorable mentions?” Would he have found another thing in my column to make fun of me for? I guess we will never know. While we are here, I want to take a moment to affirm that Michael deserves to be on the “hot” list.
As the canvas of my post-graduate life begins to fill with paint, I want to remember that these “what-ifs” are not roadblocks, but instead milestones along my path of continual growth. Every question and contemplation is a brushstroke that adds on to the never-ending masterpiece of my life. It is not about having all of the answers but about embracing the uncertainty with unwavering belief in my ability to navigate the twists and turns. I find motivation in the fact that every choice and decision propels me forward with a love of hope and curiosity. I am not solely defined by the career I choose or the path that I take, but instead am shaped by the lessons I have learned and the passion that fuels my journey.
I am stepping into the future with a heart brimming with optimism. I am not alone in my travels. I am surrounded by friends, family and the knowledge that the choices that I make today shape the narrative of my tomorrow. The “what-ifs” are not questions to be feared, but invitations to imagine, explore and create a future where my potential unfolds in ways that I cannot yet fathom.
The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.