“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I was never the type of person that had a clear answer to that question. I have no great ambitions, no particular talents. I’ve made a life of being relatively mediocre. That doesn’t bother me. What does is the fear that I will end up stuck doing something I hate simply because I didn’t have the knowledge or courage to decide.
For the first two years of my five-year college stint, I was happy with my undecided status. I took a variety of classes, simply to see what would stick. By my third year, this peace of mind was gone. Nothing had stuck anymore than anything else. I had to decide, and quickly. I chose not to. Well, sort of. I decided to get two degrees, one in English literature and one in physics. With this combination, I reasoned, I should have a foundation to do whatever I wanted in graduate school.
Graduate school would, of course, delay the final choice further. As I finished my undergrad years, I realized that I had no passion for physics, no real drive like my classmates. The reality of the field wasn’t what I had expected, and I was lost.
My mother told me to simply go along with it, that a job wasn’t important except to support myself. It didn’t matter whether or not I liked it. I’m not so sure I’ll be happy living like that. Friends told me to take a break and find myself. I’ve always hated that expression. Different friends told me to pursue my hobbies as careers. The problem with hobbies is that they are rarely fiscally sound building blocks for a successful life. Mentors told me to experiment more in graduate school. Others said I could always go back to being an undergrad and get a different degree.
This would have happened no matter my choice in university. While MSU’s Career Services didn’t end up helping me explicitly with this problem, they gave a ton of good advice along the way. My undecidedness isn’t a function of MSU’s academic ethics, but is more a function of the pressure to have a plan, to be decided. This pressure may be in part from MSU (after all, they always want more graduates under their belt) and in part due to my highly educated mother and stepfather, but mostly it is from my own perceptions about my future.
At each turn I faced the root of the problem. Sometimes you have to choose between the safe route and the risky one. The safe route is secure, well fortified and makes a good base for happiness, but it doesn’t guarantee it. The risky one is terrifying, but exhilarating. If you succeed on it, you’re sure to be happy. Of course, the likelihood of success on that road is painfully low. Do I continue on the practical path I’ve started? Do I start over with something I love, knowing I may be a secretary for the rest of my life? Do I stop and sit and try to decide even longer?
I don’t have any of these answers yet. As of now, I’m planning just a few months ahead. As you walk your road, keep these questions in mind. Not everyone is always decided.
While it can be stressful to feel the looming unknown, it can also be freeing to recognize that in that scary mass of plan-less-ness, there are possibilities I’ve yet to discover, hidden passions and the ability to take in stride whichever doors happen to open in my life.