The Unnecessary Race to a Career Path

I teach college and I encounter dozens of young men and women each year, striving to better themselves and become successful adults. It is a joy to shepherd them along the path, even if just for a brief time. 

By talking to them, I’ve learned a lot. They are smart and plugged in, with a deep care and concern for the future of our community and their roles in it. I’m also used to seeing the letter “u” substituted for the word “you”. And, after reading their writings, I’m not sure we even need to capitalize the word “I” anymore. I’ve also noticed how determined many of them are — at an early age — to figure what career they want to pursue. 

That concerns me. 

When I was coming of age in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s I told my parents that I was afflicted with the curse of being diverse. That meant that I had so many interests and so many avenues to potentially pursue that I was almost paralyzed with options. Should I study American history? Political science? Psychology? Theatre? Dance? Sports management? For a while, it was quite a crisis for me. 

The best part of my childhood is that my parents involved me in so many activities from community theater to gymnastics, public speaking to every sport imaginable along with an abiding commitment to academics, that I struggled to figure out which subject I should pursue in college. It wasn’t until my junior year in college when I felt motivated to pursue communications, ultimately deciding on a rewarding and successful career in broadcast journalism. I’ve been fortunate. 

Reflecting on that part of my life, when my diversity felt like a hindrance rather than a gift, is instructive for other young people. 

First, my parents never deigned to tell me what I should pursue or to push me in a particular vocational direction. Whatever I chose — as long as it capitalized on my skills and had room for growth and pleased me — was fine with them. 

Second, those years that I spent taking electives and pursuing a liberal arts degree served me extremely well. I was able to indulge my interests and not feel beholden to one major or another at an early age. In fact, it was stressed to me that I should enjoy my diversity and take in as much information and opportunity as possible to make a sound, reasoned choice of major. 

Third, that catholicity of interests and activities gave me the freedom to be me and to have fun in college, while exploring unique classes and meeting interesting — and challenging — individuals and classmates along the way. There was little pressure, other than that which was self-inflicted, and I knew that my track record of success in activities and academics would give me a solid foundation from which to grow. 

When I see teenagers saying that they plan to pursue a certain career before their college career has even begun, I worry they are about to miss out on one of the vital elements of college and university study — growth. It’s by taking electives and pursuing niche classes that we often learn the most about ourselves and by not locking ourselves into a single career path, we can be open and open-minded about something that might have never have occurred to us to follow. That’s the fun of college and the fun of life, in general. 

I used to decry the curse of being diverse. Now, I see it as one of my greatest strengths. 

Photo on Foter.com

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