Are you a recent college graduate? Congratulations! What a great accomplishment after a lot of hard work over the course of two or four years! You’re probably feeling excited, successful, and … uncertain?
Maybe you weren’t really sure of what you wanted to do when you started out in college, so you just randomly picked a major in something you thought you might enjoy doing. Perhaps you selected a major that you thought you were passionate about at the time, but throughout your course study you realized that it wasn’t the right fit for you. Since college is expensive, it may not have been financially achievable for you to suddenly change your major, adding on additional time before you could graduate. Now, you may be looking at your future career in this field with a heavy heart, in spite of the great achievement of graduation.
I know exactly how you feel—I’ve been in your shoes! After a long four years of hard work and determination, I graduated in 2005 with a degree in Elementary Education. It was elating to receive the diploma and walk across that stage, but it was also crushing to know that I had spent so long working towards something, only to realize that it wasn’t the right fit for me.
Pushing those feelings out of the way, I decided to try my hand at teaching. What a miserable experience. Now, I’m in no way putting down teachers or the education system. Good teachers are great and I truly appreciate all of the incredible teachers I’ve had in the past. However, what makes a teacher great is the passion for teaching. Unfortunately, I lacked this passion; for me, teaching was just a J.O.B.
But guess what? I did not have to go into teaching. Even though my college degree was in Elementary Education, I left the world of teaching and went on to pursue a career as a Recruiter and later a freelance writer and editor, as well as a Career Coach. Yes, I enjoy variety in my career!
However, I think something mentally happens to us after we have worked so hard to achieve something—it’s like our brains become focused on a narrow path, overlooking the many other possibilities. Could this be a result of society’s teachings? Or perhaps it’s because of the lingering feeling that we must do as society expects us to do.
It seems like society has taught us that in order to be successful, we must go to college, earn a degree, and pursue a successful career in the field of our degree. I know this is how I felt, holding onto a piece of paper that declared me fit to be an Elementary Teacher.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! Just because you have a degree in a specific field, doesn’t mean that it is the only thing you can do or be successful at.
You don’t have to follow the well-worn path.
“It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof.” – Henry David Thoreau
This quote from Walden expresses Thoreau’s conviction that we should challenge our beliefs based on our own perceptions and knowledge. If you doubt the original career path you had in mind when starting college, don’t feel like you have no other choices. I do not know your specific situation, but I can promise you that there are other options for you.
I recently read an article from CNBC on career change and something really stood out to me in the article.
“The biggest hurdle to successfully changing careers is you. ‘Fear of failure, of looking silly, of being rejected, of losing status—it’s the single biggest dream-killer in the world of work.”
As I read this quote and continued reading the rest of the article, I realized that many of us continue down career paths that we really lack passion or enthusiasm for, simply because we are afraid of being labeled as failures. If you have worked so hard for something, only to realize that it is no longer the right thing for you, it can feel a bit disheartening to do something different. I know this is how I felt when I graduated and when I first left teaching.
Why did I feel this way? I was so caught up in what other people would think. If I didn’t go on to be a teacher, would my family be disappointed in me? Would my friends think I was a failure? What would potential employers think? And on top of all of that, would it mean that my time at college was wasted and that money invested in my education was for nought?
I allowed the fear of what other people would think of me and my decisions affect my happiness. It was my dream-killer at the time. But guess what? They weren’t the ones teaching—they weren’t in my shoes, experiencing the dread of each day on the job, carrying the heavy weight on my shoulders each day.
You can’t please everyone, so please yourself.
As Ricky Nelson sang, “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself”. When you’re starting your professional career, don’t think about what others want to see you do or what they will think of you if you take a different path. What they are thinking doesn’t matter. How you feel each day is much more important. If you are doing something you don’t enjoy, you will likely feel like a failure, rather than if you had taken another path.
So, maybe you worked very hard to earn your college degree. Congratulations! This proves that you are determined and that you can be a focused individual, striving to learn more.
Maybe you are still struggling to pay those student loans, or maybe your family contributed towards the cost of your education. All this means is that you and your family value education and found it important for you to have to opportunity to learn.
“Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.”
– Leonardo da Vinci
None of this means that you cannot change your mind when it comes to your career. It doesn’t mean that you are a failure or a disappointment if you take a different path. I promise you that in some way, your education shaped who you are and provided you with skills and knowledge that you can use in your future career, regardless of what that career is. I know that even today, I still reference skills and knowledge I learned in college, even though I’m not an Elementary Teacher.
Even more importantly, I can attest to the fact that my family and friends did not think me a failure when I made a career change. They aren’t disappointed in me because I didn’t become a successful teacher. I know that they are proud of me for pursuing something that I enjoy.
“You can’t please everyone. When you’re too focused on living up to other people’s standards, you aren’t spending enough time raising your own. Some people may whisper, complain and judge. But for the most part, it’s all in your head. People care less about your actions than you think.” – Kris Carr
Don’t let your fear of failure dictate the path you take after college. It’s your career; it’s your life. By staying with a career that you have no passion for, you are denying yourself success and happiness.
So, maybe you are graduating soon, or maybe you are scheduled to graduate next year with a degree in something that you no longer have a passion for.
What will you choose to do—take the well-worn path and be miserable, or take another path and be happy?