Plan to Take a Few Risks

by Michelle L. Gordon

"So, where do you see yourself in 20 years?"

"Well, when I'm not driving around in my flying car, I'll probably be hologramming with my friends."

When you're in college, 20 years seem like a lifetime away; when in reality, 20 years from now your life won't be as futuristic as you think. Trust me, because 20 years ago, I was a college freshman.

In college your plans revolve around class schedules. You eat, sleep, study, party (lather, rinse, repeat). Your hardest decision is whether you should stay home and study for your English final, or go see your favorite band, which happens to be playing at a dive bar the night before the test (pro tip:  go see the band).

However, the closer you get to graduation, the more people start asking about your post-graduate plans. Some will ask because they genuinely care (friends). Some will ask because they have a financial interest (parents). Some will ask because it's a conversation starter (random dude at a party).

Back in the spring of 1998 if you had asked me where I saw myself in 20 years I would not have said the 15th floor of a tower across the river from Washington, D.C. I would not have said I'd be married to a soldier in the U.S. Army. I might have said I'd only have two kids (sorry third Gordon child).

Nope, 20 years ago I would have told you I would be living in Birmingham, Alabama and I would be working in the medical field. Like most college freshmen I was pre-med until I took my first real, non-101 class. For me, that class was organic chemistry. After a couple of weeks I promptly dropped it and the sorting hat put me in marketing.

Once I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew-up - I wanted to work in public relations - I started making plans on how to get there. I've always been a planner with a classic Type-A personality. I live and die by my calendar and I don't leave things to chance.

In the months leading up to college graduation I sent out dozens of résumés and I waited for the phone to ring. After all, what company wasn't just waiting to hire me? As it turns out, all of them. I didn't have a job immediately after college, and when I did finally get a job, it wasn't my dream job.

Here's the truth: you can plan all you want, but be prepared to change course when even your backup plan falls through. You may not graduate from college and get your dream job. You may get a job completely unrelated to your major or barely in your career field.

My first job after college was selling coupon cards - you know the ones the school band sells as a fundraiser with discounts on the back. Is it related to marketing? Kind of. Was it what I envisioned myself doing when I was pulling all-nighters toward the end of my senior year? Nope.

So, how did I finally end up with the career I wanted?

I took a risk. That's the dare. You have to do the one thing all Type-A people absolutely hate. You have to throw caution to the wind and be willing to try things outside of your comfort zone.

Three years after I graduated from college I took a risk and it paid off. I signed up for a civilian internship with the Department of Defense. It didn't require me to enlist and go to war, but it did require me to move 700 miles away to attend the Defense Information School for three months. It also required me to work at the Pentagon for two months after that. However, because I adjusted my plans and took a risk, I am now a public affairs officer, and I've absolutely loved it for the past 13 years.

Plans are great. I still live and die by my calendar (it's by Erin Condren). I'm still very Type-A, and I coordinate every detail (we're going to Disney in summer 2019. I started comparing hotels last week). However, I'm slightly more willing to take risks than I was 20 years ago.

I'm not saying you need to throw the plan completely out if things aren't going your way, but be open to changing it. Just know, it could lead to some tough decisions, like, when that band you saw the night before your English final plays at the event *you* helped organize, you have to decide - should you let someone else take the picture of you with them, or should you take a selfie (I handed off the camera).