Dear “Uncertain” Senior, Who Has No Idea What’s Next . . .
All of my life I’ve been a planner. It comes in bursts of intensity, but planning and daydreaming have always gone hand-in-hand for me. I love sitting down with a notepad or a day-planner and figuring out the future for myself. It was a way to exert control over my life in some ways but more than anything else, it was a function of efficiency. I have always taken to heart the admonition that “failing to plan is planning to fail.”
During the fall semester of my freshman year of college, I was bored during one weekend, and I sat down in my roommate’s red beanbag chair (this was the 80s!), pulled down the university catalog, and planned out my entire college career. I planned which courses I would take each semester, which graduate schools I would apply to (I had long decided I would go to grad school and become a professor), and even where I hoped to live when all of those years of school were completed. I kept the plan handy for reference throughout my undergraduate degree.
Somewhere in my files, in a cabinet in the basement, I probably still have those planning sheets. They may even be in the catalog, which I still have in my bookcase. Planners usually are packrats as well.
As my senior year arrived, however, I started having a nagging suspicion that things were going to change. As a spiritually serious person, I started to wrestle with the possibility that God was going to lead me in a new direction. I had an ambitious schedule of courses that year (I was a biology minor and was overloaded with difficult labs), but I also was keenly aware that senior year is a last “hurrah” before adulthood settled in. By fall break, I definitely was feeling more adrift. Over Christmas, I decided to hold off on applying to grad schools (the deadlines were later back then). By spring break, I sensed that a long-time, serious romantic relationship was unraveling. As commencement approached, I definitely was wrestling energetically with the possibility that God might very definitely be leading me in a new direction after nearly a lifetime of feeling absolute certainty about almost everything.
By May, I was exhausted mentally and emotionally. I was completely uncertain about nearly everything. I returned to my old bedroom at my parents’ house. I picked back up the minimum wage job I had been blessed with since my senior year of high school. I drove the same backroads I had driven in high school, listening to the same music on the radio I had listened to. I was back in my old Sunday school class with the same friends who had been there. I had slipped from certainty into uncertainty. I had become an uncertain senior.
And I hated—I mean HATED—questions: “What are you doing next?” “I thought you were going to grad school; what happened?” “Gonna flip burgers now with that fancy college degree?” “You doing alright man? No job, no girlfriend, no plans? You sure you’re doing alright?” Ugh.
Fast forward three decades and God has been faithful to lead me in His path, according to His plans. There’s an old saying, “Make God laugh: Tell Him your plans.” I don’t know that I made Him laugh, but I see clearly with hindsight that He was smiling lovingly all the way through my life. The weaving of my jobs, my graduate work, my marriage to Lisa, and so many other things have led me to Tigerville SC and a university presidency.
Since I still ended up becoming a college professor after many detours, I continue to be around students who are wrestling with that understanding of their lives. What’s next? Where can I make my mark? What am I called to do? Graduating seniors in particular often honor me by letting me peek at their anxieties and trusting me for advice.
So what do you do if you are an uncertain senior? I’d offer three bits of advice:
- Understand what God’s will is: 1 Thess 4: 1-12 is a wonderful bit of advice for following God’s will (see verse 3 for that particular phrase). This passage makes it clear that God’s will begins now, it’s how you live your day-to-day life more than it is a mystical revelation of the future. Faithful living now prepares you for what comes next.
- Learn to be patient, even as you live faithfully: James 5:7-8 says that patience strengthens our hearts, as we await God’s coming and work faithfully in the day that we have before us.
- Do something unique: This is a season of adulthood when it is likely that you will have fewer responsibilities than you will later in life. Dream. Travel. Take a really weird job that will give you unusual experiences. Work two jobs for a while and save for an extended mission trip. Write songs. See all of the waterfalls in your state. Make memories that will be your emotional food for decades to come. I rented unusual places to live (I once rented a tiny house from a real-life Polish count! I also rented a garage apartment that had peacocks, sheep, and guinea fowl on the property). These unique experiences taught me much.
On April 30, when you walk across the stage, celebrate! You are now a part of the most educated people in the world. You may not know what you have prepared for, but we have equipped you to be a transformational leader for church & society. You will do great! Don’t forget to let us know how God reveals Himself to you in the future.
Gene C. Fant, Jr., Ph.D.
President, North Greenville University