Planning your future

Thinking about your future after university can feel overwhelming but it doesn’t need to be. It doesn’t require you to plan perfectly and can be exciting with the right approach for you.

Thinking about the future you will have after university can feel overwhelming. Many students report feeling pressure to make perfect choices and that they feel they are having to plan the rest of their lives. But thinking about the future doesn’t have to be scary, doesn’t require you to plan perfectly and can be exciting with the right approach for you.

Thinking about the future

Thinking about the future can feel difficult because it is unknown and we generally find uncertainty difficult. This can be made more difficult as you come to the end of university, as you may be absorbing ideas from people around you that you:

  • need to get a good job straight away
  • have to plan your career progression if you want to be successful
  • that whatever you choose now will determine the rest of your life
  • are in competition with thousands of other people and if you fall behind them, you will never catch up or have a good life

But the truth is that life doesn’t unfold in a straight line, it is unpredictable. We can’t plan exactly what will happen in the future. But that also means that what we choose today, doesn’t have to determine everything that follows. Your first job is just another chance to learn and develop – whatever you choose. So, you can let go of the need to get your next decisions exactly right. Whatever you choose, a good life is still possible.

It’s okay that we can’t have everything planned out. Life is so much more exciting because it is unpredictable

What is a good life – what matters?

Much of your focus may, of course, be on how you develop a successful career. But it is important to remember why we want successful careers – it is because we believe that this will make us happier and more fulfilled.

A career is only part of a happy and fulfilled life. When thinking about your future it is as important to think about the other parts of your life too – social life, family, the environment in which you will live, your health, rest and fun. A career is part of a balanced life. Take time to think about what life would make you feel happy and fulfilled and recognise that this will be unique to you. You may want to think about:

  • The kinds of place you want to live (city, town, rural, in the UK or abroad)
  • The people you want to be close to (current family and friends, people with specific interests, a particular community)
  • The things you’d like to do outside of work regularly (walking in the country, theatre, sport)
  • The work-life balance that would be right for you

Of course, you may not be able to create the perfect ideal combination – but thinking about each aspect is more likely to result in you choosing a life that works better for you.

Planned Happenstance

Coming back to your career, you may find that rather than trying to plan it out in detail, it is more helpful to use something called planned happenstance. This means that you think about:

  • the learning and skills you would like to develop
  • the things that interest you
  • the things you care about
  • the things you are good at
  • the things you enjoy

Then rather than planning out each step of your career, you instead focus on the next step – picking something that will help you develop skills and understanding, that will equip to work on things that you find interesting and enjoyable, that you care about and feel good at. Each new step is about further learning and development.

The idea behind planned happenstance is that we can’t predict the opportunities that will become available to us, but if we focus on developing in areas that matter to us, we can be ready for any opportunity that comes along. You plan to continually develop and then you can seize the opportunities that happen to come along.

This can help take the pressure off the choices you make – if you pick a job that isn’t right for you, rather than seeing this as a problem, you can instead see it as more learning. You can consider why you don’t like it, what that means and then use that learning to choose your next step.

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Plan, be open and let go of unhelpful expectations

It is of course important to give yourself some direction – drifting can make us feel anxious and unsatisfied. But that doesn’t mean you have to or can plan everything. There will be many routes to a happy and fulfilling life for you. Try to let go of unhelpful ideas that suggest there is only one way and embrace the exciting possibilities that will lie ahead if you can be open and keep learning.

And don’t forget, your university will probably offer support that can help you think this through.

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