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How to Cope with Career Confusion in College

Everyone had that one thing they wanted to be when they grew up. Whether that was a ballerina, doctor, lawyer or teacher, we all had an answer. And at every stage in our life, without fail, we were asked again and again, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” The answers may have changed over time, gotten more complex or more practical, but we were always expected to have an answer.

Now that we are all “grown-up” we are expected to not only have answers, but also have the means and the motivation to accomplish them without missing a beat. But, who’s to say that we need to have answers?

Most college students, including myself, feel that they need to plan light-years ahead. Thoughts whirl around in our heads and overwhelm our senses. Questions like, “What courses would help me achieve this?” or “What’s my plan for grad school?” and even “How are these extracurriculars going to help me achieve my goals?” have the ability to take over our thoughts and can affect our behaviors. These expectations can lead to burnout, a lack of socialization and increased anxiety. But what happens when everything you originally planned for, everything you thought you knew, is no longer what you want out of your life?

When you have been asked all of your life to produce answers, not having them can be incredibly invalidating and make you feel like you’re not on the correct path in life. But what people fail to tell us when we are growing up is that confusion is normal. We aren’t supposed to have all the answers — not when they first ask us what we want, and especially not now. College opens so many doors for us; we are exposed to new subjects, we learn about jobs that we didn’t even know existed and we unlock new interests and passions along the way. It is the perfect time to find our way, stumble through life and experience new things. If you are feeling a little lost, that is fine because there are plenty of ways to cope and still feel productive!

Identify your strengths and interests

The simplest way to organize your thoughts and remove yourself from a toxic or troubling mindset is to write out a list. Focus on the positive and write out one column of your strengths and one of your interests. Some strengths could be the following: detail-oriented, motivated, good at writing, attentive, interested in science, etc. Some examples of interests could also be the following: research science, editing, writing, math, painting, etc. Once you are able to organize your thoughts out on this page you can see if anything in particular jumps out at you. Could you combine your interest in reading and writing to look further into the field of publishing or your love of science and complex details to look into higher education and research? The best part of the confusion is the unlimited number of options and access to the multitude of paths that lie ahead.

identifying your priorities

Once you have drafted up a few ideas, take a step back and think about the things that are important to you for your future. What do you want to prioritize in your life? These could be factors such as commitment, hours or accessibility. By identifying your priorities in these areas, you may be able to narrow down your list even further which allows you to focus your research on a few more specific jobs and fields. It’s also important to outline what priorities are more important than others and whether or not you are willing to compromise those ranked later in importance over others.

reach out to others

Reaching out to those in fields that you are interested in is the most efficient way to gain both insight and opportunities. You can find professors, professionals or executives that work at companies in your desired field. Most of the time a quick google search can provide you with a lot of answers about expertise and contact information. When reaching out, simply express your interest in their field and ask for the opportunity to meet with them or speak to them about their experiences. Most people will jump at the opportunity to help out a college student. We are in such a formative and flexible time in our lives, and we should be taking every opportunity to grow and develop our passions and interests. There’s no telling what could come from simply reaching out. Sure, you may receive more rejections than acceptances, but nothing worth having is ever easy.

take care of yourself

But, more importantly, you must be sure to take care of yourself. Confusion is not easy and can cause a lot of anxiety and other complex emotions. Stress has the ability to bleed into other aspects of your life when present in larger amounts. Some great ways to de-stress can include self-care tasks, doing something you enjoy or even creating a designated stress-free zone in your house. My favorite self-care activity is sitting on the couch with a face mask and a good book. I also try to make my apartment a stress-free zone and do most of my schoolwork in coffee shops and libraries.

At the end of the day, there is no right way to handle career confusion. There are ways to organize and mitigate the effects of it, but similar to college, it is about what you make of the situation. Using these tips and tricks above, you can learn more about yourself, your likes and your dislikes. Finding yourself is the most important part of college, so don’t rush it and enjoy the adventure!

Liz Acque

Pitt '23

I am a psychology major at Pitt!! I love to read and write and I'm so excited to participate in HerCampus more !
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