Finals season is fast approaching for university students. Some may be finishing up their first year, some may be on the verge of graduating. It’s a stressful, adrenaline-filled, last-gasp-of-effort time.
I remember the final months of my undergrad, feeling like I couldn’t possibly get all my work finished in time. I knew what needed to happen. The four papers. The five exams. Countless hours of studying and late nights. I remember not being sure how I could possibly handle it all. But an even worse worry was one that I had been effectively avoiding for years: what am I going to do now?
How many choices is too many?
We’re living in a strange time. Young people have an unlimited amount of career paths they can take. Don’t want to work for an uptight company? Start your own business. Want to promote your own personal brand? Become an influencer!
Twenty-somethings are constantly being told that they can do anything and be anyone they want to be. Some of us even feel this way once we have a job or an established career – worrying that there’s always something better out there. For some people, having seemingly infinite choices is incredibly liberating. For others, it can be paralyzing.
I recently read a book called The Defining Decade that really resonated with me as a confused twenty-four year old. The author, a clinical psychologist, works specifically with twenty-somethings. She says that in our modern world, people in their twenties believe that they need to be doing something monumental, that they need to be extraordinary. Travel the world, be wild, follow your dreams - your twenties are a time to mess around before you have to get serious! Unfortunately, this mentality can be really damaging.
Choosing a career can be a confusing and anxiety-inducing process.
The author’s studies have found that this aimless approach to your twenties is leading to a spike in depression in young adults. They are unhappy because they have so many choices and feel there is always something better out there for them. Knowing that they can do anything is leading some to do very little.
When I read this book, there was a tug at my heart. I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts with zero clue which direction I wanted to take my degree. Sometimes, having too many options can make choosing something feel next to impossible.
How to get focused and move forward
Luckily, there are ways to face the daunting task of choosing a career without fear.
1. Get specific about what interests you, and go for a job related to that. Try an aptitude test or a career quiz. Ask yourself lots of questions so that you can get as precise as possible. Let’s say you’re interested in interacting with people on a daily basis. Does that mean you want to work in sales, customer service, or maybe as a representative for a company? If you know what you’re looking for it’ll be easier to figure out where you should apply or who you should be speaking to.
2. Recognize that people want to help. It can be uncomfortable putting yourself out there and formally “networking,” so look for casual settings to connect with people. Go for a coffee with an old friend who is working in a field you’re interested in. Make an effort to go to alumni events, it’s a great way of connecting with people who might be willing to help based on your shared schooling. Don’t be afraid to pick people’s brains – most people remember that choosing a career isn’t easy and will be happy to spend a little time with you.
3. Breathe. Take the pressure off yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others, because you don’t know what circumstances have led them to their roles, or if they’re even really enjoying them. People who have jobs can feel the same indecisiveness that you may be feeling, but feel too trapped in their positions to try something new. That’s why it’s important to focus on your own goals and your own process. Be humble and know that an entry level position, or an unpaid internship, can help set you on a path to a fulfilling career.
Finally, remember that having a lot of options means that you are free to choose where your life is heading. Let that freedom motivate you instead of trap you into a cycle of indecisiveness. Know that you’re not alone in feeling anxious, and that the best way to figure out what you want to do is by being curious and open to the opportunities around you. Be kind to yourself, be patient, and be brave enough to commit to something.