Next (adjective) 1. immediately following in time, order, or importance.
--Random House Dictionary
“What’s next?” It’s graduation season as millions of young women and men celebrate the end of one part of their young lives. The end…of high school, trade school, college, graduate school. It is absolutely a time for joy at accomplishing the goal of finally acquiring an education, a degree, just getting to the finish line. YOU DID IT! I’m a softy and so I cannot watch a graduation ceremony without getting teary, moved by the truth that these young souls now stand on the edge of so much possibility, so much potential. It is always an exciting time to be a new graduate.
And yet it’s tempting for “elders” like me to romanticize those days following graduation. It’s been almost 25 years since I picked up my grad school diploma and I’d like to remember that I strode into my future with confidence and a clear direction to the place called “the rest of my life” but the truth? I was anxious, nervous, and unsure about just what was “next”. Post graduation so many well meaning folks badgering me with just one question: “So John, just what are you going to do with the rest of your life? What’s next?”
What was to come “next”? What I was supposed to do “next”? Whom I was supposed to become “next” in my unfolding human life? “Next”—the place we all have yet to arrive. The story not quite written to its completion. Tomorrow, the future, or in the words of William Shakespeare’s character Hamlet, “the undiscovered country.” What is “next” and just how are we humans supposed to figure that out?
As a person of faith the one piece of advice I’d offer 2012 graduates is this. Trust that the God who created you has also planted within you a unique gift, a passion, a talent, a call, a vocation, work, one “thing” wholly your own, exactly what you are supposed to do next and who you are made to be next. So now your job post classroom, and for the rest of your life in fact, is to figure out just what that “work” is and when you do find it (and you will) dive right into it with all your heart, soul and mind.
Yes, this task is so much easier said than done. I’m blessed in my life to know and love many twenty something folks. I see that often the hardest challenge they face is to figure out just what their “one thing” is, their “next”. But the gift of a life given to us by God is also a challenge: to grow up and into our one of a kind “next” and to take responsibility for that journey of self-discovery alone.
Parents cannot do this for us, tell us whom we are made to be, not peers or spouses, teachers or coaches or any one else either. It is up to us finally. But here’s a hint. You’ll know “it” when you discover “it”. As the writer Fredrick Buechner said: “Vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” And when that serendipitous transformation occurs, when we find or stumble upon or embrace our life’s vocation, it is really a miracle, simply amazing. “So this is why I was put on this earth!”
What’s next? We may be made by God for a specific job or a career, some lifelong profession which dovetails perfectly with what we love to do. Some of us were just made to be a doctor or an engineer or a carpenter or minister or an auto mechanic or a teacher. It may be a hobby or an after work pursuit, life on the weekends and at night writing a novel, acting on stage, singing with passion, playing a sport and pushing our bodies to the limit. For some a life’s work is about being a great Mom or amazing Dad: some of us are made to build a family and make a home with care and love.
God knows what’s next and now it is up to every human being to answer this question too for the rest of life. To discern what it is that makes our hearts soar, our minds stretch, our lives meaningful, and our spirits flourish and then to make it all our own. To do what God made us to do.
What’s next? The answer awaits.