From the very first day of journalism school, I knew I didn’t want to be a journalist. I knew I couldn’t spend my life asking people how they felt about their house burning down. Huge mistake? Big waste of time and money? Not at all. It’s important not to confuse the skill set with the job title. I knew I wanted to write; I just didn’t know how I wanted to do it.
It can be scary to be staring down graduation with no idea of what to do afterward. But you’re in good company. Statistics show that 80 percent of people over 45 consider changing careers – not jobs, careers. And if you don’t really care what a bunch of 45-year-olds do, here’s one that will hit closer to home: In one survey, only 2 percent of respondents said they were in the occupation they had planned for when they were 18.
Great…so you’re not alone, but what do you do about it?
The first thing to do is to take some pressure off: you’re not making a lifelong, unalterable decision here. If you get it wrong, you can fix it. With that in mind, here are some other things you can do to find your way:
What made you fall in love?
When you chose your degree program, what attracted you? Don’t think about job titles; think about what grabbed you emotionally. Maybe you love helping other people learn and reach their goals, but now that you’ve got a teaching degree, you realize you can’t stand the thought of being in front of a class of kids all day. How about doing instructional design for a corporation? Or being a tutor in an online learning program? Maybe you studied nursing because you love the health sciences, but you don’t want to work with patients. How about doing research? Or maybe sales for a pharmaceutical company? Try to remember what attracted you in the first place, then brainstorm different ways to use those skills.
Is there anything you can rule out?
You may already know there are some things you just don’t want to do. In my case, it was interviewing people who had just been through horrible tragedies. If you don’t like to travel, you can probably rule out being a pilot, a flight attendant, or a cruise ship director. If you don’t want to be far from home, you can probably rule out any career that would require relocating.
What guidance services are available through your university?
Most universities offer services like aptitude testing, career counseling, internship placement, etc. It’s very likely that there are great options that haven’t even occurred to you. For instance, if you have a degree in graphic design and don’t want to work in an advertising agency, what about designing displays for museums, tourist attractions, etc.? Your guidance office can help you think outside of the box to find a creative way to do what you love.
After you’ve been through these three steps, you should be able to narrow your list. Next, find out everything you can about your remaining career options. If you’re still not sure, try this trick: Pretend you’ve chosen one, live with the decision for a day, and see how you feel. If you feel a sense of dread or doom, that’s a good sign you can cross that option off.
Deciding what you want to be when you grow up can be tough, especially when adulthood sneaks up on you. We spend so many years longing for adulthood, but somehow we never actually expect it to show up. But, by the time you graduate, there’s one thing you should understand about adulthood: adults make mistakes. This isn’t a decision you have to get right the first time. If you’re lucky enough to discover your passion right out of college, that’s great. But if not, you’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.