What’s Next?

What’s Next?

It’s the time of year when students are graduating, both from high school and college. Of high schoolers, many of us ask what we think is a benign question: Where are you going to college next year?

For a large percentage of graduating students, this is a question they can answer with delight and anticipation. For a growing population of students, however, other options are on the horizon. Some attend a trade school. Others elect to get jobs and work – sometimes because they can’t afford college and need to save money. Still, others are overwhelmed by the pressure they feel at age 17 or 18 to make decisions that will frame the rest of their lives and need a reprieve from the break-neck pace they have maintained for the last few years, juggling academics and extra-curricular activities.

My oldest daughter is in that last category. Despite receiving scholarship offers from some excellent schools, she is unsure both of what and where she wants to study. She has elected to take a gap year. She’s considering long-term mission trips, as well as working and taking a few core classes at a local campus. Her decision to postpone college is wise, both personally (so that she can zero in on her ideal vocation) and financially (so that she doesn’t incur student loans before she knows what she wants to do).

I’m so proud of her decision. And yet, I see the shadow that crosses her face every time someone asks her, “Where are you going to school in the fall?”

She has to explain herself. Justify her (very smart) decision to wait. And sadly, I think I see her doubting herself just a little bit every time she has to answer that question.

I recently ran into my daughter’s junior high orchestra teacher, who has always been a favorite of my girls. Of my daughter, she asked, “What’s next?” I love that. I love that she didn’t make an assumption about what should happen in the fall, but rather asked what the possibilities are.

It’s a small thing, but it made a big difference.

In the coming weeks, as you attend high school graduation open houses, instead of asking “where are you going to school in the fall,” ask “what’s next?” Instead of asking a college graduate “have you found a job yet,” ask “what’s next?”

Our lives are journeys, marked by choices and changes of direction. We never really land anywhere; we simply move ahead. Each of us travels at a different speed, and everyone finds her- or himself on a detour at some point along the way. The detours are often where the most beautiful things happen, even if they are unexpected, unconventional, or thrust upon us unwillingly (divorce, job loss, death). Celebrate the detours and look for that beauty. And keep asking what’s next?