Oh, Mary

Life without One Direction (Not the Band)

February 3, 2020
Aleah Appling

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I am directionally challenged. Specific directions or landmarks don’t help, and don’t you dare use cardinal directions when talking to me. But ask anyone who knew me in college, they would say my academic and career compass has always pointed me due north.

It’s not that I was the ultimate student (because I wasn’t), but I found comfort in concrete goals. As long as I can remember, the goal was to get not good grades, but the best grades. To do every extracurricular that wouldn’t get me into a good school, but a great school. To graduate and go to college, where I would thrive as a bio major and head off to med school in an easy four years. 

Spoiler: this is not how it went down. However, college never failed me in providing direction. The expectations were clear: fill your life with extracurriculars, research labs, community service, and a couple of published papers and you would end up with a degree (easy right?). The high expectations didn’t bother me: they gave me purpose when I had none and kept me on a straight path.

Eight months out of college, that clear direction doesn’t exist for me anymore. Do I miss college? Yes, but not for the reasons you think. Sure, I miss tailgating, parties, friends, late night adventures to 24-hour diners. But what I miss most is the sense of direction. Everything had a deadline, a timeline, and it was all for one degree. Now what?

For my type-A personality, a lack of direction is my worst nightmare. But time, (and having to write this blog post) have made me realize that perhaps a lack of direction is exactly what I need. Time has allowed me the space to explore the things I forgot I was passionate about, like art and writing. It has allowed me the freedom to grow in my first job ever and given me freedom to explore the ever-changing world of PR, an industry I never thought I would be working in, without the pressure of thinking about my next step. 

At Action Mary, I’m challenged in many ways, but I suppose the biggest challenge is that I am literally forced to forge my own path. I’m often given tasks without a clear how-to and asked to think critically about problems and what might be the best solutions. There’s plenty of guidance and help along the way, but ultimately, I’m required to think on my feet and trust myself. This has helped me grow not only in PR, but as a professional. I’m excited to continue challenging myself as a professional in the work world and that I get to start that journey here. 

In my personal life, I’m learning to appreciate my two worlds — work and home — separated by a train commute. I have reconnected with friends from home, that I honestly didn’t think I would ever talk to again. I have met new people in the city and have made my college friend’s apartment my second home (sorry you-know-who-you-are). I spend my weekends watching my sister’s basketball games at my old high school, and other days I try new restaurants in the city with my gal pals. It’s slowly but surely becoming a lovely balance. 

There’s a great piece from TIME called 21 Things Nobody Tells You When You Graduate College by Jon Acuff, that I love to refer to when times get tough. My favorite piece of advice he gives is this: 

“The best careers and biggest adventures are determined by our ability to invest in four distinct things: Relationships, Skills, Character and Hustle.”

So that’s exactly what this recent college grad is trying to do, invest in four key things. Not all at once, and not with any end goal in mind besides following my own inner compass wherever it takes me. I know it may sound lame, but I’m excited for what’s to come, even if I don’t know what it is yet.