Most of us grow up with one unavoidable question budging its way into every conversation with nearly every adult: What do you want to be when you grow up?
As college students, a junior myself, most of us begin to feel the weight of this question, that we carelessly brushed off, catch up to us. What do I want to do? More importantly, who do I want to be? As the pressure of picking the “right” major and finding the “perfect” career begins to set in, inevitable panic trails not far behind.
The truth is, there is no right major nor perfect career. These ideas are so unmercifully ingrained into the minds of young adults by a societal standard that upholds the notion of wealth as a synonym for success and happiness, both of which are subjective.
As I continued switching from major to major each semester, I found myself sitting in my adviser’s office, face to face, with a critical moment of clarity: am I working to be who I want to be or who I am expected to be? A great deal of anxiety toward the future stems from feelings of uncertainty and incapability, ones that often snowball off of the idea of a “right” career path. In order to shift my mindset from what I should be doing to what I will be doing, I had to get a few things straight:
You are not expected to get it right on the first try, stop putting that pressure on yourself.
College grants you the liberty to try different majors, join various clubs and get a taste of your future through internship programs. Take advantage of this. These things give you a look into the future before you’re fully committed to it. It took me one too many accounting classes to realize that I, in fact, hate numbers. I hate solving them, looking at them and dealing with them in general. After an acting class or two, I realized crowded spotlight performances were not my forte and a career in performing arts would probably never be for me. Try a bit of everything. If anything, you’ll get a sense for what is definitely not a good fit.
Understand your own goals and motivations for your life, and let them take you where they may.
As I said, success and happiness are subjective. One day, we will all take the inevitable first step into creating a fulfilling life for ourselves; one where, hopefully, we never encounter the desire to look back. Understand what happiness and success looks like for you, and set attainable goals. You don’t have to own a multi-million dollar company to be living your most prosperous life. Remove monetary attributes from the larger picture, and focus on what motivates you, whether that be creating, teaching, designing, leading, etc. Pay attention to the skills and interests that you may have pushed aside in pursuit of other “right” options. If we lived in a society that prioritized our passions over our status, what would you pursue?
Know that everyone starts somewhere; you are where you need to be.
We often want to have a guidebook to life, one that tells us where to turn, when to stop and what will happen if we do x, y and z. This stems from the desire to be in control, to only make choices that are “right,” that constantly advance us into the life that we want. No amount of YouTube tutorials or career how-to books will ever grant you crystal-ball-clarity into your future successes. Understand the importance of right now. Appreciate the small strides that you’re making, in whatever position you’re in, toward your long-term goals. Set goals for the day, the week and the month. You don’t have to land the perfect job or get the highest promotion in order to make progress this week. Where you are right now is where you must be in order to get to where you’re going tomorrow.
Feeling a little lost or a bit scared at this time in life is normal, it’s inevitable. Feeling stuck, however, should not be. You will only ever have yourself looking back at you in the mirror, so be kind to yourself. Understand that the “perfect” career looks different for everyone, so stop squeezing yourself into places that are not meant for you. Focus on letting your goals for tomorrow guide your actions for today, not your fear.
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