How does it feel choosing your next step after service?
Is it clear what you want to do?
Or does choosing feel a little overwhelming? Maybe you think: I should do culinary school. Then, five minutes later: I could be an astronaut!
As the mini-fantasies continue flowing, the freedom is exciting, but can also be paralyzing.
After all, what if you choose wrong?
So you don’t choose for a while. You keep weighing options, maybe keep having informational interviews.
The problem is, when you stay in this space too long, you end up living half a life. Paused between who you’ve been and who you’re ready to be now.
And paused is a lonely, restless place to be for volunteers—who tend to want to spend their days and moments intentionally.
If this is you, feeling a little paralyzed about what’s next, you’re not alone. And there is a way forward—but it’s time to ask a different question.
Forget, for a minute, what you might want to do next. Rewind and ask yourself who you are right now.
Many factors can make choosing a next step after volunteering challenging. As we’ve already discussed, it makes sense that service is a hard act to follow.
But if fear of making the wrong decision is your sticking point, that usually comes from a familiar root.
In general, things feel off and are not a fit for us (either right away, or after some time) when they don’t align with who we are on a deeper level.
Not with who we think our parents or society want us to be. Not with who our peers are. Who we are.
So if you feel overwhelmed with options, like you don’t have a solid strategy for choosing, and worried you might make a decision you’ll regret later, stop looking at job listings, grad schools, and other possibilities for a while.
And start looking at yourself.
You may not know what you want your future to look like yet. But you know a lot about who you are. You are, in fact, the leading expert on the subject. No one else can tell you what you can.
So stop for a moment, sit down in a calm place, and try this:
- Consider the values that mean the most to you today. Choose the top five. One way to get at these is remembering high points in your life—during service or other times—and asking yourself what values were being expressed. Another way is to google “list of values” online, choose a longer list you like, and choose the values that resonate most (e.g. honesty, flexibility, balance, ).
Values naturally evolve over time, so don’t worry about choosing values to live by forever. What feels most important to you now is what counts.
- Sit with these values a bit. Explore them. If three people have a value for purpose, that means something a little different to each of them.
To one, it might mean honoring the individual lifelong purpose they were born with.
To another, it’s making intentional decisions—living life on purpose—day to day.
To a third, it’s being a person for others.
What does each of your values mean to you? And why does each matter to you?
- Come back to the next steps you’ve been considering. Look at them curiously, opposite your values. Which one(s) would allow you to live out more of your values? Which options feel most energizing now?
Sometimes this is very quick to see. Sometimes it takes a little time and outside research to determine if a direction would really let you to live out certain values in the way you imagine.
Give yourself the space you need to be honest with yourself. To feel into which next step feels the most you—and which you’d feel most proud and peaceful putting yourself behind right now.
And speaking of honesty with yourself, one last thing:
Beware of perfectionism.
Volunteers tend to be all in. They put themselves fully into what they do, and most I know are used to doing well across their lives: in school, relationships, service, and beyond.
If this sounds like you, it makes total sense that you probably also want to do well in whatever you choose next—and do well in the choosing of it.
(And also perhaps… if at all possible… to please everyone you care about and everyone you will meet in the future in the process :).)
Sound familiar? If so, you’re in excellent company.
But while we may veil it as striving to do our best, perfectionism does not help us move forward. The opposite: it keeps us paralyzed and small.
As Anne Lamott has written, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”
Is perfectionism an old pattern for you—something you’ve been working to overcome for some time?
If so, how could you use this next step decision as an opportunity to grow in the direction you want?
To intentionally focus on possibility instead of perfection? To take a next step that’s truly real for you, not just “right”?
You are a deep being with many meaningful steps to come in your life.
And when you come to what’s next and all your decisions from a place of genuinely knowing and connecting with yourself, your choices won’t feel simply right or wrong, pass or fail, perfect or nothing at all. And you won’t be just crossing your fingers things will work out.
Your decisions will feel more informed, relaxed, confident.
You’ll understand that even if you change your mind and go in a different direction later, you made a conscious choice aligned with your values, grew from it, and got to know yourself better.
Which means that truly, You cannot go wrong.
Life is a constant act of course-correction—which is most of the fun and the growth. Go ahead and give it a go. We’re all right here with you.
If you found this blog valuable, please consider sharing it with others who might benefit, too. Want more support moving forward into your next empowered chapter? Sign up for my free starter course, 5 Steps to a Fulfilling Life After Service, right here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Arto Martinnen