By Jasmine Johnson
By the time I hit the two-week mark of being a STEM-degree alumna (huge shout out to the class of 2016!), I realized the fairytale of graduation weekend was over and the real world everyone warned me about had finally arrived.
I recall that I was mid-smile, rejoicing over the fact that I never had to take a Physical Chemistry course again when suddenly I was bombarded by the question no one who’s unsure of their next move wants to be asked: “So, what’s next?”
“Excuse me?” I replied as I choked on the sip of champagne I had taken following a celebratory toast.
“Yes, what now?”
What now? I quickly gave the generic response to make everyone leave me alone: I have job interviews ahead and will be going to grad school in a year. The truth: I had no real clue. Everyone surrounding me was full of oohs and ahhs, gazing at me and my tassel hanging perfectly to the left, boldly declaring my alumna status, but what I actually felt was much the opposite of perfect.
One thing I can admit to myself, and that probably resonates with others, is that it’s hard to give credit to your own accomplishments, big or small. I always feel as if I can do more or be more, ultimately putting immense pressure on myself.
Graduation was the exception, because officially ending a four-year long marathon of blood, sweat and long lab hours with a group of proud family members giving you all the praise and kind words is something that you can’t ignore. Now that it was over, and the stability of college and the visible cheerleaders were also gone, the dreaded, “What now?” ran through my mind every second of the day.
During that two-week span from graduation weekend to a lazy Sunday back in my hometown, I made a decision to change my mindset in response to the dreaded question, choosing instead to shift the line of questioning to a path of optimistic discovery.
The idea of starting over shouldn’t be a time to lose all sense of optimism, but rather, it should create excitement for the future. If you haven’t realized by now, in some magical way, everything falls into place. So, what now? Yes, I have a potential job opportunity; I’m preparing myself for the GRE, but I’m also learning to live and to be present in every moment—and you should, too.
Being present is a gift in itself that so many women in STEM fail to enjoy because we’re always chasing the answer to “What now?” or “What’s next?” As I grow, I’m learning that being present and using my voice through #VanguardSTEM to organically find my own answers to tough questions is a way to help other Women of Color in the STEM community to also embrace and analyze the now.
After reading an article on #VanguardSTEM that inspires you, what now?
You just heard about the low percentages of women of color in STEM in your field—what now?
Let’s change the mindset of what our successes are; they will come naturally with hard work and perseverance. Instead, let’s look for other ways to fulfill our purpose by questioning how to get to the next level with optimism and finding creative ways to answer the once-dreaded question, “What now?”
Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
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