I’ve been seeing a lot of articles recently written for and by millennials about the common lack of direction we have in college. Most of these articles tell us something to the effect of “it’s okay not to have your whole life figured out yet, you’re still young, you’ll figure it out eventually.” Reading most of these articles give me a fleeting moment of relief, and a moment of feeling better about my life. I am one of those people. I’m a senior in college and I have very little figured out about myself at 22 years old. Yet, not days after reading these articles, I’m back to feeling as though I need to get my life together, I need to decide where I want to go in life.
I pride myself on knowing “me” pretty well. I know my name. I know I hate goat cheese. I know I pick at the skin around my nails when I get nervous, and that I deal with loss pretty well. I also know that if I drink coffee after 4 P.M., I’ll be awake all night. What I don’t know, though, is whether I want to be a college professor one day, if I’ll be a published novelist by the time I’m 30, if I’ll be the press secretary for the first female president, or even if I’ll go to grad school next fall.
Months ago, my indecisiveness would have given me anxiety. This anxiety would only be temporarily relieved by reading an article about a millennial who eventually figured it out. Instead, these thoughts of indecision now excite me. I, like most of you, don’t have it all figured out. That’s okay. Actually, it’s better than okay. It’s a good thing. We’re better off not having it all figured out yet. We should be relishing in these moments of our lives where we don’t know what’s next. Not only is it far more exciting to have unlimited potential and opportunity in front of us, it will help us grow to be more substantial as people, and it will enrich our lives.
You’re open to more experiences if you’re not dead set on one career.
As students at a liberal arts college, we have the privilege of being able to take classes in multiple disciples. Sure, I hated statistics and I wasn’t really a big fan of art history, but that philosophy 101 class we all had to take enthralled me. The following year, I declared a minor in philosophy, and now I can’t get enough. I don’t concern myself with whether or not this or that class will help me in my future career, because I don’t know what my future career will be. Instead, I’m open to the experience of learning something new, and taking the time to enjoy it, rather than worrying about the end-game of each class. If I came into college knowing exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I may not have taken that second philosophy class, or the math class where I made a great friend. An experience is an experience. You don’t have to try to qualify each experience you have in relation to your future career. Just enjoy the experiences as they are, and maybe some great lesson will be learned, or a new friend will be made, and you can suffer through a science class together with humor.
You’re more focused on your life right now.
I know this statement seems counter-intuitive–wouldn’t you be more focused if you knew what you wanted to do for the rest of your life? Just hear me out. Remember that stats class I hated? Well, I hated it because I wasn’t good at stats. At all. Had I said to myself “I’m never going to use this in my future career in ‘X’, so I’m not even going to pay attention. I just need to pass the class,” then I would not have been focused on learning elementary statistics. We all go into a class (ever since middle school) saying “when am I ever going to use this!?” because we assume this has nothing to do with the career we are so dead-set on. But if you don’t know what that career is, then you’re not worried about how each detail is going to benefit you in the long-run. I didn’t even try to imagine how the class would benefit me in the long-run, and instead, I focused on learning what I had to learn, and trying my best to get good at it, just in case. Turns out, I did indeed use stats in a research methods class years later, and I had no idea at the time that it would benefit me.
You have infinite chances to reinvent yourself and learn about who you are.
This week, I want to go into academia. Last week, I wanted to be an editor for a big publishing house. Maybe next week I’ll want to go into politics creating public policy. Each career idea I have will excite me, and turn my attention to a new part of life and the world. It’s like playing grown-up dress up, with zero negative repercussions. Instead, with each change, we learn more about the world around us, and we continue to learn more about ourselves. We learn what our talents are, what our vices are, and what we have to offer as individuals. Not only will this enrich our future careers (when it’s the right time to pick them), but it will enrich our everyday lives, relationships, and experiences.
When you’re home over Thanksgiving break, and your aunt asks you again what you’re going to do after college, instead of feeling embarrassed or pressured or anxious about the fact that you haven’t decided yet, tell her you don’t know; you may want to be a doctor, or lawyer, or business executive. What you do know is that you’re enjoying the process of finding out, you’re loving the college experience, and you’ve grown even more since the last time you saw her. You learn more about yourself everyday because you haven’t limited your ambitions to just one. Tell her that it’s even better than knowing exactly where you’ll be in 5 years, because no one really knows, anyways.