You’re a College Graduate, Now What? Part 2: The Upside of Uncertainty

Woman sitting on rock and wondering

How are you doing since your last visit to Idealist? Have you made any important decisions about your budding professional life? What kinds of job postings are grabbing your interest?

If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance that the social impact sector is your jam. At least you think it is, right? Except for the short spell when you thought maybe finance was a better fit, you’ve been pretty committed to a life of social impact.

At least you think you are. Wait, is this really where you see yourself?

How are you supposed to know what you really want? And how come it seems that others around you seem so certain about their choices? They are so sure (or so you think). And you?

Well, you just feel so…unsure.

Why don’t I know what I want?

If it helps, I’m feeling anxious just having written the introduction to this post. I was you once upon a time—long ago. These questions are triggering my own angst from back in those first days when it seemed that everyone but me knew what they wanted to do with their lives.

My roommates were headed off to medical school or law school. And there I was—looking for a job (see my prior post—the one where I describe how I sweatily walked the streets of NYC in unfeminine shoes). At that time, I had some vague sense of wanting to work in the publishing industry but knew I’d have to be flexible and grab anything I could find.

And guess what? I survived. I had no idea where my first job would take me and yet, 24 years later, being open to “not knowing” led me to a place where I continue to grow and thrive—even in times of uncertainty.

Uncertainty is where the knowing begins

When it comes to starting your career, there are all sorts of nagging, open-ended questions for which you think you need the answers. Unfortunately, we aren’t born knowing everything even though it seems like we should have been. How frustrating it is to have not been given the playbook.

Take heed in the notion that it’s okay to not have any answers. In fact, I’m going to suggest that you embrace the “not knowing.” If you can do that, then you’ll be well on your way to navigating not just your job search, but so many other aspects of life, as well.

Yes, the ambiguity of uncertainty can be a vacuum but here are some strategies—a mini-playbook, if you will—to help reframe how uncertainty can be a wonderful teacher.

Five reasons you should embrace uncertainty

  1. There is wisdom in uncertainty. I love this Deepak Chopra quote. Simply put, if you only ever choose vanilla ice cream because you know you like it, you’ll never know what other flavors you may like (perhaps even more than vanilla!). Try that social impact job which involves eating chocolate ice cream—who knows where it may lead you?
  2. Be willing to open all doors. Keep this gem of a quote from Emily Dickinson in your back pocket: “Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.” Not sure if you’ll get that first job you interviewed for? Explore other opportunities. Don’t be afraid to create choices for yourself.
  3. Embracing uncertainty is an attribute. Employers are interested in employees who can handle uncertainty. It’s great to be prepared to handle matters which you have seen before but what about the issues you haven’t seen before? Can you roll with the punches?
  4. Ask yourself: What is the worst thing that can happen? It is so easy to let our insecurities paralyze us. Asking yourself to consider the worst case scenario often helps put things in perspective. For example, if you take a job that you ultimately don’t like, take the necessary steps to find a new one. And with that…move to number
  5. Wrong choice = lesson learned. Haven’t you still grown from the knowledge gained about what you didn’t like about said job? You’re now better equipped to know what works—and doesn’t work—for the next time.

So that’s it. Easy, right? So there it is—your mini-playbook for demonstrating the upside of uncertainty. Whether you utilize these strategies in an interview, or in a cover letter, remember that it’s brave to show potential employers you’re okay with knowing what you don’t know.

Living with uncertainty is probably the greatest existential dilemma we humans face. Accepting that nothing in life is certain encourages us to redefine our boundaries and take chances. My first job in publishing led to a second job in public relations which then led to the pursuit of my graduate degree in social work. And now, I’m a psychotherapist lucky enough to have landed this gig as a contributing writer here at Idealist Careers. Who knew? Most certainly not me.

What don’t you think you know? Are you letting uncertainty get the better of you? Please use the comments section to share your experiences with job uncertainty. I know I’m not the only one.

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Jennifer Abcug, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist in New York City, where she specializes in women’s life transitions. Prior to this, she counseled patients and families at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Convinced the earth moved after reading Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” the question: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” has become a focal point of Jennifer’s practice.
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