I turned in the last of my 17 college applications a couple weeks ago. The moment I clicked that final ‘submit’ button, the weight of the world toppled off my shoulders.

Although I still await acceptance (and rejection) letters come March, I can’t help but celebrate the completion of each grade listed on the transcript admissions officers will see. Nearly every adult I’ve spoken to since submitting my applications has congratulated me with something along the lines of, “It’s all downhill from here!” or “Now you can sit back and relax.”

For the most part, these encouragements are appropriate — any academic accomplishments from now until June won’t dramatically affect my impending college career. I just have to pass my classes and walk out of HBA for the last time, diploma in hand. It’s freeing. A little too freeing, to be honest.

The view from the summit of senior year is endless and uncharted. Standing at the edge of the mountaintop is an entirely different experience than the ascent itself. My goal for the past four years has been to apply to, receive acceptance into, and later attend college. I’ve checked off one of those three bullets, and the remaining two advance with alarming speed, as does the necessity of setting new goals. But in order to set new goals, in order to identify the what of my future, I’m going to need to identify the why first. The what of high school has been to earn As, to complete community service, to compete in sports, and the why has been college. Now that I’m nearing the end of this road, the question stands: Where do I go from here? Or perhaps, to translate it all into more serious terms, what is the purpose of my adult life?

Of course, no one expects a college freshman to know exactly what the rest of her life will look like. But at the same time, it won’t do to just waltz into adulthood without any ideas for the long term at all. Scary as it is, I’m now responsible for developing myself into a contributing member of society. As a certified pastor’s kid, I’ve been instructed on this almost all my life. Something my dad often preaches about is how there’s a difference between a mission and a method. A mission is a purpose, and a method is a means to an end. So for example, if your mission is “to help people care for their physical wellbeing,” you could choose from many methods, like becoming a doctor, a physical therapist, a personal trainer, etc. No one’s mission is strictly to become a doctor (despite what your tiger parents may assert.) Mission is the why, method is the what, to reference my earlier musings.

Personally, I think my why is to teach, and that could take the form of any number of things. I want to be a professor at a research institution, but if that plan falls through, I won’t have failed in achieving my purpose. I’ll just have to choose another what: I could be a high school teacher, a tour guide, a museum curator. It depends on how God guides me as I progress — I trust He’ll open doors leading where I’m meant to be. Of course, that’s not to say there won’t be smaller failures, doubts, and disappointments along the way. We live in an uncertain world. What’s key is remembering that failing something in life doesn’t mean your life is a failure. I believe that we can fall off track, but God will guide us back around, despite any trials or tribulations. Just think about how hard Jonah tried to get out of traveling to Nineveh (as per God’s will) only to end up washed ashore from the stomach of a whale.

Like I previously said, no one expects the class of ‘21 to know exactly how our lives will unfold right this very moment. If you’re the type to have a 12-year plan plotting out every minute detail of how you want your 20s to go, I’m reluctant to rain on your parade, but there will likely be more than a few potholes and roadblocks to derail you. That’s what makes the need to identify a mission all the more important. Method may change, but mission remains the same. (Although, certainly, you may have not identified it correctly in the first place. According to Dr. Jordan Seng, the pastor who is my father, life purpose shouldn’t change once properly identified.) Decide on the why of your life, but hold on loosely to the what. I used to believe I was made to be a runner and only a runner. As a result, whenever I had a training setback or injury, it felt as though my purpose was crumbling. Truly, I don’t think God wanted that for me. It was unhelpful to make a method the central focus of my life.

To my classmates, as second semester seniors, we have the unique privilege of redefining and refining our self-directed purposes. We’re about to have far more freedom to pursue those purposes, too — no one is going to decide for us. There will be a plethora of different influences bouncing off our backs and blurring our vision as we dive into this new world, but ultimately we’re the ones who have to identify which of those offered paths we’re actually going to take — or maybe we have to forge those paths ourselves. It’s frightening. It’s daunting. Most of all, though, it’s exciting, and I urge all of us to focus more on the latter. Don’t let these last months before graduation slip away in a daze of beach weekends and movie marathons (although, to be sure, indulge in those from time to time.) Take on the task of self-examination. Analyze the story of your life as it’s thus unfolded, and look into its possible future. Pinpoint how or where you’d be healthiest as an individual and most meaningful as a cog in the swiftly turning clockwork of civilization. It’s worth asking the big questions. Life is too short and too unpredictable not to.