Will your choices in college define the rest of your life?
I've been out of college a little over 2 years now and am coming upon the last 10 months of my M.Ed, and am wondering what the future holds. There are a billion things I want to do and try; and sometimes I feel scared that I'm going to take a wrong step, that somehow I may already have and don't even know it yet. Constant questioning. Fear. Wondering. How will this define me?
I find I have a lot in common with students I see every day who express similar anxieties. Specifically those surrounding The Dreaded College Major Choice. The choice that we're told defines our career options, our salary options, our future.
And in many ways, yes, it does. If you get a degree in nursing it will be hard to get a job as an engineer if your interests suddenly change. But does that mean if you get a degree in nursing and realize you want to be an engineer that it's impossible?
We're so concerned with finding the quickest path, the easiest journey, that it's so easy forget the importance of today - of the journey itself. The trials are what make people interesting. And it seems almost every person I've ever met or read about who has been successful had to go through a lot of pain, confusion, failure, and anxiety along the way. In hindsight it sometimes seems others' paths were laid out for them all along. But in reality, it takes a lot of work, risk, and faith.
And sometimes you're jumping blindly. Sometimes you may not be 100% sure that this is the major for you. And yes, if you change your mind that may mean going back to school or taking a big risk. But is that the worst thing in the world?
If you figure it out later in life isn't that better than never figuring it out at all?
Does it mean that all that time before was just a "waste?"
My favorite bakery is run by a former electrical engineer. She loves her bakery but doesn't see her years in electrical engineering as a waste of time. She embraces everything she's done in her life and appreciates the experiences.
It's easy to feel like we are an English major or we are a pre-med student. I used always say "I am [insert current job here]" and have now tried to catch myself and say instead "I work as [insert current job here]." When you start to feel like the major you choose or the job you're in is who you are it can subtly start to make you feel like you're stuck and that what you've chosen is now who you are and there is no way out.
Never were these doubts more present in my life than when I tried to find a job after college. I felt like that first job I chose would define me for the rest of my life. And I felt like if I didn't get a job that I wanted to define my life I would be perceived as a failure.
And then one day I stumbled across a quote from Walt Disney - "Live the adventure."
And all of a sudden, my paradigm shifted. All of a sudden, the destination, the "career path," didn't seem that important. I realized that careers are ever-changing, ever-growing, a product of a rapidly transforming society and economy, and thus how I fit into that says nothing about who I am. I may major in this, try that, explore this, fail at that, succeed at this, and as long as I'm enjoying the adventure and constantly moving forward, even if I can't see where I'm going next, I'm going to be okay.
I think if we put too much stock in particular majors and career ladders we lose the child-like curiosity of exploring the world like a great adventure. Sometimes there's sinking sand and wild beasts lurking in a corner, but when we've defeated them we typically learn something, and grow closer.
So don't get me wrong, career centers are one of the best resources on your college campus so run there on your first week and try to figure what the best major for you is and what kinds of jobs you think you'll like. But do it like an explorer, like an adventurer, excitedly moving forward while enjoying the day, the class, the friends, the experiences.
Because I think the most important choice you will make in college is your attitude. Anxiety, frustration, apathy, cynicism, resentment, or that desire just to "get through it" won't get you where you want to go. Choose to be fully present in your college experience. Enjoy each class. Enjoy the people you meet. Remember in the grand scheme of our inequitable world that education is privilege. And while of course it won't always be fun and certainly won't always be easy, it is the struggles that often teach us the most.
And remember that you can always change your mind. Because you will change. And that is not only okay, it's kind of wonderful.