Two years ago, I wrote a column entitled “Majorly Undecided,” in which I expressed my confusion about choosing a major and my apprehension in doing so. Jump forward to this year, and I now face the same struggle, only this time in relation to career paths. I have, thankfully, made some progress since my 2009 column: I declared myself as an English major and applied for graduation. However, in applying for graduation, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the question looming overhead: What will I do when I graduate?
In the same way I saw declaring a major as a struggle, I now see “declaring” a profession as one. More and more often I hear students say they have no idea what they want to do, yet more and more often the question is asked. However, struggling students should not be discouraged by their lack of direction, but rather should be excited about all the opportunities they have waiting for them in that “real” world once game days and nights at the UGLi are things of the past. It’s certainly not easy to think this way, especially in this highly competitive academic environment, but it’s essential in order to keep our heads above water in this brutal hunt — the career hunt, that is.
I am well aware that there are the lucky few students in majors such as business and engineering who are less affected by this struggle, and, in many cases, already know where they’ll be working next year and their likely career paths. However, the majority of students in social sciences and the like share in the struggle, and many in the latter group are envious of students in the former group — not because they have jobs, but because they know what career they would like to pursue.
Recently, however, I realized that my current inability to answer the daunting “what do you want to do” question is not as terrible as it seems. The chances are slim that my first job will be in the same field I end up working in, and it’s vital that I stop thinking of my first job out of college as determining the rest of my life. I didn’t realize the unnecessary stress I’ve caused myself by thinking this way until recently, when I listened to a graduation speech given by late Apple CEO Steve Jobs at Stanford University. He spoke about how hard it is to connect the dots when you’re in college, as it’s nearly impossible to comprehend how, and if, things will ever line up. I, for one, am guilty of trying to preemptively connect the dots. Jobs’s speech reminded me — not to be cliché — how funny it is the way things work out and how sometimes it is best to allow things to happen rather than fret about making them happen.
So for those of us about to jump into the fray, it’s essential to adopt and maintain an optimistic and open-minded attitude, despite the setbacks and uncertainty that will inevitably accompany our initial employment quests. Remember, thankfully, how young we graduates-to-be still are and that time is on our side. I often hear people (my parents) say that 60 is the new 50, and frankly, I’m not one to argue. My dad runs marathons, my mom has more energy than I do and both have yet to show signs of hearing loss or memory lapse. But despite being part of a generation in which life expectancy is over age 80, it’s easy to feel old when life shifts from a structured four-year path to a windy and unpaved road. In reality, we’ve lived hardly a quarter of our lives, which leaves us plenty of time to secure a career and connect those scattered dots.
I’m not saying students shouldn’t strive to achieve their best and pursue their dream jobs as soon as possible, but I am saying they don’t have to stress so much about it happening on day one. And while many of us know that, I think the hardest part is accepting it as truth. Because, really, who wouldn’t want to know what’s in store for the future? For now, however, it’s important to hold our heads high and shamelessly embody indecisiveness. It worked for me two years ago, so I can only assume it will work once again.
Leah Potkin can be reached at email@example.com.