By Christopher K. Lee

Wisdom for Graduates: Embrace the Uncertainty

Strong GPA: check. High GRE scores: check. Solid statement of purpose: check. My graduate school applications were nearly complete; all I needed were recommendation letters.

Then I received an email from my adviser refusing to support me for the programs I had chosen. She thought I should apply to other disciplines. My heart sank as I read the email. What was I to do with a dozen (non-refundable) official transcripts? It appeared I had reached an impasse on my career path.

Seek God over Plans

Graduating seniors often find themselves en route to a destination far from their earlier dreams—or without a destination at all. Many entered college as biology majors and left with a degree in psychology or economics. Others spent four years and too much money to learn that they would not enjoy (survive) medical school. On the one hand, college is about self-discovery; on the other hand, there is a fine line between that and failure. For many graduates, this tension is never fully resolved.

Granted, some Christian students are convinced that God has called them to a particular profession. They may have a specific, noble vision (e.g., providing medical treatment for refugees in Malaysia) that’s not only about personal goals or familial expectations but is also “God’s plan” for them. And perhaps it is.

But often life does not play out the way we envision it will. And what we thought we heard from God might turn out to be inaccurate. This is not to say that our plans and passions are not of God; it’s simply an exhortation to hold them with open hands.

I thought I would be a clinical psychologist. Applying for PhD programs seemed like the logical next step after college. But through a series of difficult and serendipitous events, I am now pursuing a career I have greater passion for than psychology. From my experience I can testify that God’s Word is true: “Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:6 NLT).

Surrender Fully

Throughout life, but especially in college, we are taught to be independent and in control. Society conditions us to depend on ourselves. In secular environments, relying on God is seen as weakness. At best it is tolerated, but only for circumstances outside of human control—the rest of the time we’re told we should be fine on our own.

Unfortunately, this view pervades the way many Christians live. Students often try to control every possible facet of a situation (e.g., exam or project) that they can before leaving “the rest” up to God. Don’t misunderstand me—adequate preparation is important and glorifying to the Lord. But relegating God to be Master only of the factors we cannot control shows an incomplete reliance on him. Trusting God requires surrendering both what we cannot control and what we think we can. The former builds faith; the latter produces spiritual maturity.

Build on What’s Real

People often remind college seniors that their predictable routine of college (go to class, study [optional], take a test, rinse, repeat) will soon be replaced by the “real world.” And whatever the “real world” entails, many students believe college isn’t part of it.

It’s true that college is a unique time and environment. That’s why campus ministries like InterVarsity exist. But the real world doesn’t start when we graduate. And our first 22 years of life are not just preparation for life after college. Those years are the real world too. We live in it our whole life. What we prepare for are greater responsibilities.

The problem with seeing only post-graduate life as the “real world” is that it discounts our valuable college experiences. That may even include our walk with Jesus. Despite being fervent believers as students, some graduates lose their faith by following the philosophies and systems they deem the “real world.” But college is not a transitional period removed from the pressures of life. Nor are our spiritual journeys during college an idealistic phase.

If you have encountered the redemptive love of God, you have experienced that which is more real and enduring than anything in this world. And he who has been with you through college will never leave you nor forsake you. So, in the midst of the uncertainty, seek him with all your heart, surrender to him in each moment, and root yourself in the real love and truth of Jesus, who walks with you always.


Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.
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Christopher K. Lee, MPH, frequently speaks at local colleges and writes about the intersection of faith, work, and identity at PurposeRedeemed. He is an InterVarsity alumnus and healthcare consultant. 

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