When you are just starting out in college, it’s hard to think about what you want to be when you grow up. It seems like there are endless possibilities, which can seem both exhilarating and terrifying.
When I first entered college, I thought I’d be a music major. I then realized I was terrible at reading music and really just liked singing like a rock star. Next, I majored in history. It was something that I was “good” at in high school. I loved learning about the past and how it affected the present. I enjoyed memorizing facts and spouting statistics. I then realized I didn’t know what I’d do with a degree in history. In a move pulled straight from the heart, I decided to major in theater (cue laughs and scornful looks).
I don’t regret majoring in theater at all, as it enhanced my confidence and taught me so much as a person. It made me a better communicator, a better salesperson, and even a better writer.
If you are in college, or even a graduate, and are wondering what to do, here are ways to determine what you want to be when you grow up.
Experiment with A Lot of Jobs
School is wonderful, but having a job in a particular field will really teach you what that field is like. In college, I tried a lot of things. I was a human resources assistant, telemarketer, cashier at a pizza restaurant, and then finally a theater teacher and arts administrator.
I learned something valuable in each of those jobs. I realized I enjoyed working with people, expressing ideas, but I wasn’t meant for food service. I would get flustered behind the cash register. Learning what you don’t want to do is just as valuable as knowing what you do want. So even though it might feel like you are in a dead-end job, remember that it’s part of the journey.
Find a Mentor
A great way to find out what you want to be when you grow up is to find a mentor. Your mentor might not be obvious at first. If you meet enough people, ask the right questions, and are driven to learn something from everyone, your mentor will appear. My mentor in college was a professor in the drama department who focused on critical theory and arts education. She was instrumental in shaping my thoughts and the direction of my career.
I suggest you ask a lot of people out for coffee and go on a lot of informational interviews. I personally subscribe to the theory that I can learn something from everyone, which has helped me act like a sponge and absorb useful information from people of all walks of life.
Look at Your Strengths and Weaknesses
When thinking about your future career, it’s key to look at your strengths and weaknesses. While I definitely think you can learn anything and improve your situation, knowing what you are good at and what you are not can really help expedite the process. For example, I know I am more creatively minded, rather than scientific and analytical. I found out pretty quickly that a career in anything outside of the arts/humanities would be unlikely for me.
Do What Makes You Happy (While Being Realistic)
The axiom “do what you love” is spewed as advice everywhere you go. It’s good advice, up to a point. When I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be Mariah Carey when I grew up. I wanted to be a singer and tour the world. As I grew up, things changed, but my love for the arts and humanities never did.
I think it’s important to dream big, but also be firmly rooted in reality. If you are striving for a career in the arts or humanities, write down a list of potential jobs you could do. For example, you could be a teacher, a writer, a consultant, or an administrator within your field. I think doing what makes you happy is important as you get only one life, and you are likely to spend eight plus hours of most days working. But I also believe that you can’t be so myopic with what your career might look like. Be open to opportunities and possibilities. Sometimes the best experiences come out of something that you never even considered.
So, my advice for college students is to experiment broadly, learn from everyone you meet, and don’t be afraid to try and fail. Failure gets you one step closer to success. It’s also key to remember that things may change — you may have several different careers in your lifetime. It’s okay to do different things and deviate from what you studied. Life is an adventure, so embrace that aspect in your work.
Do you have any other advice to add? How did you decide your career path?
Melanie Lockert is a freelance wordsmith, a passionate debt fighter, and frugal lovin’ minimalist who writes at DearDebt.com. She devotes 50% of her income to student loan debt and is often dreaming of her next adventure.