I have a job that doesn’t pay enough.

Well, it is above minimum wage, so it’s better than most jobs I had throughout college. It isn’t much, however. Graduating UCR has given way to a new phase in my life, which basically amounts to, “You need to have a steady job and make a steady paycheck or you’ll run out of money, default on all your bills and die.” It’s important to realize that unless you have really nice parents, grad school or a permanent career lined up as soon as you graduate or quite a lot of savings, many of you are going to be in my same position in a few short years. Try not to fret, though. As taking a year in abject poverty off after college can pay you something more valuable than any paycheck: Experience.

I work as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for a 911 company. It mostly entails driving around a large, unwieldy diesel van/truck hybrid. Occasionally, people get really sick and we have to go pick them up and administer medical care between wherever we find them and the hospital. Most of the time, people call when there isn’t any actual emergency, but there are a few calls that I’ve been on where I feel I’ve made an actual difference. Aside from that small sliver of satisfaction, being an EMT has given me an inside look at hospitals all over Southern California and allowed me to interact with paramedics, police officers, nurses, doctors and many other people in the totem pole of medical services. My job has given me a chance to have real, first-hand experience, something that can’t be read in a book. I always thought that I wanted to work somewhere in medicine, I just never quite knew where. My work now gives me a chance to see if a career in medicine is worth a lifetime commitment, and hopefully find a spot perfect for me somewhere in the diverse hierarchy.

Four years ago, I would have scoffed at this. Fresh out of high school, I had everything planned to a “T.” Go to UCR. Get good grades. Ace the MCAT. Go into medical school. Pass that and become a doctor. Call it hubris, but at first I turned a blind eye to anything that didn’t fit neatly into the life I planned for myself. Eventually though, UCR and the real world began to seep in. I tried new things, like art, music and writing. I took classes that challenged my entire worldview and introduced me to ideas and potential careers I had never imagined. I made friends, made plans and started doubting my own path.

I got “an education.” In doing so, I was forced to look within myself and realize that, in the words of John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” I ended my college career with an anthropology degree, different tastes in food and music and as the arts and entertainment editor for the Highlander Newspaper. I wasn’t ready to commit to being a doctor. What dumb asshole had that idea five years ago? Was it me? I’ll kill me.

Needless to say, college gave me a chance to find myself and realize that turning 18 doesn’t dry the ink that writes out our lives. Now there are undoubtedly plenty of people out there who already know this and are embracing UCR with an open mind. I’m sure however, that some of you are where I was four years ago. Some of you may be in majors you hate. Some of you may be pursuing careers you think you love. Some of you are going to end up locked in a job you hate, working day in and day out because you need a paycheck.

I’m not going to wax philosophically now and say something terribly cliche. Just try to remember that you’re here to learn and college isn’t simply a means to an end. We all have an incredible amount of privilege for being able to choose our own way. None of us are chained to a workbench and forced to make iPhones or are working as a slave in one of the countries that came out on the wrong side of imperialism. Whatever circumstances brought you to UCR, you’re here now.

Don’t waste it.