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  • Sofía Aguilar

"WHAT NEXT?" - Life after Graduation

“So, what’s next for you?” has been the question I’ve been trying to dodge from myself and family since I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College back in May of this year. Even though I’m currently working and making a small but valuable living as a writer, even though I have goals to attend graduate school and publish my work along the way, it’s as though people expect me to have a full roadmap for the next years of my life.

Last fall, while many of my classmates were working themselves to the bone to balance their schoolwork with the dozen or so applications for grad school, I’d long made the conscious decision to wait a few years before returning to academia; anything else just wasn’t the path for me. And with the pandemic, I’m even more sure of my choice to temporarily forgo grad school for my own safety, mental health, and personal and professional growth.

But before graduation, I was quite (understandably) worried about my future. What would I do until then? How would I support myself? After all, it was the first time in 15 years that I wouldn’t be returning to school in September.

In response, one of the most important decisions I made during this time of limbo and uncertainty was to live at home with family. After realizing I couldn’t focus properly at home with my parents (largely because of the fact that my dad took over my work space), I was undeniably privileged to be surrounded by other family members who’ve opened up their homes to me, and have been living with my aunt for over a year now.

Because I’m not paying rent, I am able to save all my current income, which at the moment is made largely from freelancing. Dipping my toe into both, earning money for my work even before I graduated made the transition to post-grad life that much easier. Because I was volunteering as a staff writer for my college’s student newspaper The Phoenix throughout my senior year, growing a love for interviewing people and critiquing recently released media, I improved enough to make the leap and pitch ideas to larger publications, many of which could afford to pay their writers.

My previous social media experience also earned me the role of a freelance social media coordinator for an online book club and an author who also happens to be a creative writing professor at my alma mater. Because all these commitments can be completed from home and are casual enough that I can create my own schedule and still make room for personal time, I count myself extremely for the flexibility all these work allows me.

Since February, I’ve written for Latina Media, HipLatina, Unpublished Magazine, Jupiter Review, and, of course, Collective Magazine, covering news updates and offering critiques on recent releases in entertainment, media, and politics, with plans to keep going up to even bigger platforms. I’ve learned how to create and calculate an invoice, how to write within tight deadlines, even within the same day. I’ve made great connections and gained valuable opportunities in this field, all of which have made me a stronger writer and a person with more nuanced opinions.

Additionally, as a creative writer, I spend much of my time on personal projects and works-in-progress in various genres. I develop my craft through reading, submitting to journals, attending free workshops and author talks, and, as a program alum, volunteering at WriteGirl, a nonprofit that helps young teens develop their writing in all genres, excel in leadership opportunities, and even apply to college. This year more than ever, I’m driven to give back to my community and the people who helped me get to this very freeing place in my life.

But when freelancing isn’t the ideal long-term form of employment compared to permanent staff writer positions, when creative journals can’t always pay their contributors, when the road to publication in the mainstream book market is time-consuming and still far-off for me, I still get the question of “What’s next?” from loved ones more often than I’d like.

The truth is, I don’t know what’s coming in the next year or even next week. I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me anymore but for once, I’m not afraid. Because as my aunt once told me, I’m in this incredible place in my life where I am beholden to no one, am free to pursue what interests me, and can generally do what I want (within the limits of Covid, of course).

For as long as I can remember, everything in my life was about preparing for the future, and more specifically uni. My mom did everything to make sure I did well in elementary and middle school so I could go to a good high school; that I got good grades, took every extracurricular you can imagine, and volunteered in my spare time to boost my applications and be accepted to good colleges.

Now that I’ve finished uni and my larger academic journey (for now!), I’m excited to see how I’ll continue to grow on my own time, where my new dreams will take me, and what it will be like when I finally arrive.

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