Written by Audrey Keen

In 2017, I began my college career at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. A classic freshman, waiting to meet the stranger I was going to live with in a shoebox-sized room and nervous for what my new life would entail. I never had a huge dream of going to college and getting a specific degree for a specific job. I kind of thought I wanted to go to NC State, but got deferred and chose a school close to home. All kinds of aimless decisions were made back then. 

During my first year at UNCC, I felt out of place. Lonely, and still aimless in what I wanted to study and the people I wanted to be surrounded by. I did some self-reflection and wanted to see if I could recall anything that had brought me constant joy. When I thought about my childhood I remembered being outside a lot; fishing, hunting down rolly pollies, planting gardens, playing with our array of pets, and making mud pies with my sister (because we thought we were earthy chefs..?). This all played into my constant love of the outdoors and animals. I came to the conclusion that I would like to channel these interests into studying wildlife. I saw the Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology degree at NC State and it just felt like the right path for me. 

This realization gave me something to work toward throughout my freshman year of college. It was a challenging but feasible goal. I had to work my butt off, get great grades, and send in an application to State. I struggled that first year with having such a large life change and feeling alone in my struggles. But to keep my story relatively short, in 2018, I was finally accepted into NC State’s College of Natural Resources program! When I got that acceptance letter, it felt thrilling. I was so excited! The past year’s hard and daunting work had finally paid off. 

Transferring to NC State for my final three years of college was the best decision I could have ever made. I met so many new people; I felt like I belonged and I loved what I was studying. I was in the right major, at the right school, with the right people. I had the drive to finish my next big goal, to get my Bachelor’s and get a job. I did clubs, internships (one at a zoo and one at a wildlife camp, which was so fun!), studied hard, and secured a job at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences for my final semester. In Spring 2021, that goal was completed and I got my diploma! A truly surreal moment. For four years of my life, I had a long term goal. After that, the cap was tossed up and all the festivities were done.. my official “adult” life had begun. 

I continued my job as a Marine Mollusk Technician for the museum, moved in with my partner, and got a dog. I got everything I wanted and yet here I am, typing this up and not feeling fully satisfied with my life. I have such a cool job; I get to work with specimens, learn about animals, create social media content (@marinemollusks_ncsm), and work with different mapping systems. All of these things interested me in college and still truly do. The main piece missing in my professional life is working outside, but still, I think I should feel more than satisfied with my current day-to-day life. I’ve reached all of the goals I had created, all of which took years of dedication and resilience to accomplish. Now, that lifestyle has all come to a halt and I don’t have to think about what’s next, next, next. I feel like I’m not doing anything, but I’m also doing everything at the same moment. I need to enjoy the present more, but it’s all slowed down so fast that it’s given me a bit of a shock. 

I can’t help but continuously wonder, what will be my next goal…? 

Frankly, I have no idea what my next goal is. I think that’s the hardest part, and that uncertainty is where my lack of satisfaction manifests.

I had a talk with my co-worker the other day about whether they felt this way after recently finishing college as well, and they confirmed my feelings. I’ve gone back to having an aimless lack of direction, and it gave me so much relief to know someone else felt the same way I did. Getting a degree is not the straight path and easy journey we had been taught to believe. Finishing up college and doing all the “right” things doesn’t necessarily guarantee security.

My journey through my professional life definitely hasn’t been picture-perfect so far. I didn’t even know if I wanted to go to college; I’ve felt lost in life so many times, but I eventually found an answer. 

Some advice I cling to and that gives me peace within these weird periods of life is to let life take its course. Eventually, you can look back and see how your path was created to take you where you are. With each job, class, volunteer position or whatever it may be, you learn what you do and don’t like. Any experience you gain is worthwhile. Not every step you take is amazing, but it’s still a step forward. You may see another person’s career and feel envious, but don’t forget they had a journey to get there. They more than likely had struggles and aimless moments as well. 

I can already look back and see how my path was created to get me where I am now, and I’m excited to continue down that path. Maybe I’ll be a wildlife tech, work at a zoo, a museum, or something totally out of left field. I think there’s some power behind not knowing your career direction, and it makes your options limitless. I guess this is my not-so-private journal entry, that I hope at least one person can resonate with in this phase of life. I want them to know there are other post-grads out here feeling weird too! Please feel free to reach out to me if you ever wanna talk about being a recent post-grad (or mollusc… haha) and bond over being confused. 

P.S. In this weird phase I started my podcast “Adulting Newbie”, where I talk about my transition into adulthood and different lessons I’ve learned so far. Also, the struggles I deal with in this transition. Hopefully, it will make you feel less alone as well.