Early Career Success Guide: What If You Don’t Know What to Do With Your Life?
Only 53 percent of college graduates get a first job related to their major. Obviously, this is even less likely to be the case, if you studied for love and not for money or a clear career path. But does that mean that you’re doomed to wander the job market, searching fruitlessly for a good-paying job that you’ll actually enjoy?
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The simple answer is: of course not. The more complicated answer is: life’s a journey, and your college education is only the first step on the road. The key is to remember that you are not your major, and what you studied in college is not necessarily a blueprint for your career.
“Let go of the idea that you have to find a job tied to your major,” writes Alyssa Frank, managing editor at Roadtrip Nation, in PayScale’s Guide to Early Career Success. “Maybe you chose your major based on pressure from your parents and it never stirred you on a deep level. Maybe you thought it would make you money, but the idea of devoting your life to that exact subject is hard to swallow. Or maybe you just chose a subject that you loved, only to find no clear path to a specific career. Regardless of what’s giving you pause (and panic attacks), if you don’t feel driven to dedicate the rest of your life to your exact college major or don’t know how it’s even possible to do that, evaluate your reasons for choosing your major and whether you feel a real affection for it.”
Regardless of what you decide, there are a few things you can do to start heading in the right direction:
1. Think about what you liked about both your major and your college experience.
Even if you couldn’t wait to graduate and never want to think about your classes again, there’s likely something you enjoyed about your college experience. Don’t dismiss what comes to mind, even if it was the parties, or your involvement in your favorite sports team, or even living in a community of people doing the same thing.
Whatever you learn, you can use. Maybe a stint as the fraternity’s social organizer lead to a future in event planning. Maybe tutoring classmates showed you that you should really be a teacher. Be open to surprising yourself.
2. Don’t forget about the stuff you hated, too.
Make a list of all the aspects of your experience that didn’t work for you, whether it was making your own study schedule or doing group projects or even some core aspect of your major. Again, be honest. No one needs to know if you’re an English major who secretly hates having to plow through three novels a week – but you need to know, in order to align your path with your goals.
3. Talk to people who know you.
Do you have a favorite professor, or a bunch of friends from your major who really get you? Now’s the time to look them up. Sometimes, an outside perspective can show us sides of ourselves we never contemplated. Maybe someone in your network sees talents and possibilities in you that you’ve never noticed. Maybe one of these people has a line on a job that could put those skills to use. Even if the job doesn’t turn out to be your dream gig, you’ll learn something.
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