So many decisions! Kara Bergstrom is the director of Columbia’s Intercultural Studies program. She has lived, worked, and studied in China, Spain, Cameroon, Kenya, Mexico, and throughout Latin America – so she’s pretty acquainted with big moves and life transitions. Here’s her best advice for thinking through the “What’s next?” questions.
I love talking with students who are asking questions about their future. The conversation usually involves a mix of fear and trepidation combined with anticipation and wonder. It’s such a massive world! So many opportunities for travel, study, service… where to begin?
Each person I meet with is so different. I’m always awed by the fact that God knows how many hairs are on their head (Luke 12:7). Their family history, educational context and experiential past are completely unique. Their gifts, hopes and dreams are one of a kind, but their decision making often feels fragmented. The amount of options can be overwhelming. In my role as Intercultural Studies Director, I often ask myself, “How can I best support them as they explore their calling?”
I’ve found a few principles helpful when it comes to the all-important “what should I do with my life” conversation:
1. Don’t be afraid to commit.
The dreaded word. I get it. You worry that by committing to one path, you’re losing out on the other opportunities. It’s true. But what other option do you have? If you think about it, every choice you’ve made in life has committed you to one thing to the neglect of others – your best friend, your summer camp, your sport or instrument. You had to choose something and move forward! As we get older, I think we weigh our options more heavily and feel greater pressure in deciding. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Committing is a good thing. It often leads to what will become the next adventure.
2. Most decisions are not permanent.
Other than the decision to marry, have a child or be baptized as a Christian believer, very few decisions you make are permanent. The major you choose, the school you attend, the location where you live and the job you apply for will influence your future, but only partially. You can always re-direct. You are only taking steps on a path, not hitting the finish line. Start walking and see where the path leads.
3. God is really only calling you to one thing.
We can go crazy trying to hear God’s specific answers to our questions about our future. Was that poster a sign? Is that song saying something to me? What does God want from me? Almost all of the biblical references to God’s will are about our character, our priorities, and our relationships. As you serve, travel or study, He cares about how you live. For the specifics, you get to choose! Pursue your passions. He instilled them in you.
4. Embrace the joy of this stage.
The college years can be very stressful because, decisions. (Does anyone enjoy moving every four months?) At the same time, these are also the years when you are free! Free to move, try new things, make mistakes, explore new interests and meet new people. If you are making decisions without considering a spouse, a child or a mortgage, celebrate! This phase may not last long. Embrace the joy of freedom.
5. You are not alone.
God will never leave you or forsake you (Deut. 31:6). He cares about your decisions and your future (Jer. 29:11). He puts people in your life who can walk with you as you take the next step. Instead of making decisions on your own, involve people who you respect and trust. There’s a real comfort in community.
I’m always encouraged to see God’s sovereignty at work even when the way may not seem clear. His plans are bigger than the decisions we face and His love is deeper than any misstep we may make.
Kara Bergstrom (MA) has lived, worked and studied in China, Spain, Cameroon, Kenya, Mexico and throughout Latin America. Fluent in Spanish, she worked with mission teams to train, orient, send, translate and arrange logistics. After completing her Master’s thesis on the pros and perils of short-term missions, she was thrilled to join Columbia’s faculty as Director of Intercultural Studies. Kara is passionate about teaching and mentoring students as they pursue their cross-cultural calling.