I'm reading
Dear class of 2020
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Dear class of 2020
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Dear class of 2020
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
16 November 2020

Dear class of 2020

Timeless advice about what comes next and why you’re already ahead

Written by Steph Stepan

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

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Dear Class of 2020,

On the morning of my final year English exam, I had breakfast in a Melbourne café with some friends. It felt like the beginning of the end. The whole year had been a fluke: my teachers had mistakenly given me good grades. And even if by some miracle I was not exposed by these exams, I would not survive in the world beyond the school gates.

It turns out I was deeply unprepared for the world. I had also done nothing wrong to end up this way. No one mentioned that while I was busy applying to universities, there was another course I’d already been accepted into: my 20s. And that it had nothing to do with the course I would study, and everything to do with letting the world bump me around a bit. 

Which brings me to you. This next period of your life will be shaped by the events of 2020 in a way that mine wasn’t. Still, I bet we’re not all that different. I too wondered why I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do, and what, in the meantime, to tell my parents. So, I’ve put together some advice for you about what comes next. And it has nothing to do with your grades.

You’re already ahead

Whatever happens next, I want you to know that you’re perfectly placed to see the world for what it is, and run with it. Unlike 18-year-old me, you’ve already been deeply sobered by life this year. Unlike present-day me, you don’t yet have a fixed idea of how the world works, or a deep investment in it. This is an incredible advantage; remember to tap into it. As for the rest of us, please excuse us as we muddle through our old-world baggage.

Opportunities aren’t doors, they’re waves

If it feels like opportunities are about to close, know they’re less like doors and more like waves. Some will pass you by, and others will seem out of your league. There are more on the way. My 20s were punctuated by missed opportunities: An offer to be an editor at a magazine, a photographer wanting me to be her assistant, and an artist offering to mentor me. I said no to all of them because I didn’t think I was good enough, and I was struggling with depression. Every ‘no’ felt like a portion of the world would never appear again. With enough time, I could see that wasn’t the case. Now, I can feel the swell of an opportunity, when to hold still and when to start paddling because this one has my name on it.

Go the wrong way, just briefly

Whatever happens next, don’t be afraid to walk a path that’s not your own. Just temporarily. This is how you learn the difference between not walking your path, and not walking the path most other people are on. After university, I landed a job at a publishing house. I felt relieved that I had something to put on LinkedIn, and there was a niggle, too. Was this it? I was circling around the truth — that I had always been a creative, and I didn’t want to work behind the scenes. It’s just I wasn’t feeling brave enough to take a less conventional path yet. Eventually I would be.

The best subjects don’t come in one degree

If I could choose three subjects for 18-year-old me, I’d tell her to study Mindfulness, Business and History. I’ve learnt about all three of these haphazardly, but you can start now if you haven’t already. They’re invaluable because you’ll always need internal ground to stand on; you’ll also spend a good part of your life running your own business or working in someone else’s, and what happened before is inextricably tied to what’s happening now and what’s next. Notably, none of these come in a single degree. You can also learn a lot about them for free.

Everything is clearer when you’re on your own

When the dust settles, try to head off on your own somewhere. Luckily, you don’t have to venture far; it’s more about contrast than distance. Out in the wild, compare the story you’ve been told about the world, with the one playing out in front of you. This is how you sharpen your bullshit metre. Let yourself fall in and out of time so you can find your own pace. And write down the things that helped you this year, because you’ll need them again. As you know, shit storms tend to arrive unexpectedly, and it’s best to already know the things that help you feel safe.

I’ll leave it here, Class of 2020. This is the part where I’m meant to say you’ve got this. I won’t because there’s nothing wrong with uncertainty. That feeling that you don’t know what you should do next? Honour it. Make the best possible decisions you can; turn up with integrity; and experiment and practice your way into someone you’d like to be. Remember, you’re ahead already. You can see the world for what it is — beautiful and broken — and run with it.

Steph Stepan

Steph Stepan is a writer and illustrator. She’s also the co-founder of Friday Best, an online interview series with young women. She publishes a newsletter called ‘Love, Stephula‘ about being human. Everyone is welcome.

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