Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life

How to sort through the challenges of finding your professional purpose in—and beyond—college.

There I was, less than 48 hours post college graduation, back at my parents' house, sleeping in my childhood bedroom. The room seemed so much more confining all those years later. I settled in for what promised to be a long year. I wish someone would have warned me that graduating from college would not automatically lead to career clarity. I thought that snazzy college degree would lead to instant professional direction and gratification. As I started searching for jobs and planning my escape, it dawned on me that I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. My English degree failed to prepare me for any distinct career path. I felt I was at a dead end.

So, what does any confused English major looking for a little job security do? Why, enroll in some graduate program, of course. I packed up my belongings, and I enrolled in law school. Fast-forward several years and many frustrating career moments later, and I began to question what God was up to.

What do you do when confusion seems all-consuming? How do you navigate this uncertain path and ultimately reach a place of peace and direction? What do you do next when you've already switched your major three times and you're leaning towards making another jump? And what happens when your college career is winding down and you're not quite sure what comes next? Let me share a few lessons I have learned kicking and screaming along the way.

Clarity Never Comes Instantly

I recall wishing and praying often that God would just show me what direction to take, and then I expected a sort of “presto” moment where God unfolded everything instantly before my eyes. Fast-forward eight-plus years, and I can tell you that although the path is much clearer, God still has not revealed the entire picture to me. In fact, I think He never will. In my know-it-all way, I would probably take it and ruin it, so He only shares the bits and pieces needed to accomplish the tasks at hand.

What do you do next when you've already switched your major three times and you're leaning towards making another jump?

Enjoy the Journey

I look back on my early post-college years of handwringing about what I should do in my career, and it is a wonder I didn’t drive myself absolutely crazy. Since change doesn’t come instantly for most people, then what do you do in the interim? There are a few things you can do to make the confusing journey more enjoyable. First, accept these ups and downs as a natural part of life. You are not the only one to experience them. Life is a series of starts and stops, and recognizing that allows us to better ride the waves when they come. And trust me, they will come. Find pleasure in the process of searching for more clarity. As you gain new skills and obtain mastery over old ones, see it as one more step forward on your path. An A+ on a test isn't just a good grade added onto your transcript—it's proof you mastered a new skill, and you'll be able to utilize it in the future. I know it may sound corny, but it is less about where you ultimately end up and more about what you do on the road to your destination. Stay positive and know that regardless of how long it takes, God is really up to some pretty awesome stuff in this life and the one to come.

Forgive Yourself

Sometimes when I look back over the past decade of my life, I have to laugh a bit. I started college as an English major with a pre-med focus. I finished college as an English major who wanted to work in the nonprofit sector. I entered law school and dabbled in public interest before pursuing a brief stint at a large firm. I was utterly confused and unsettled, and then I was mad at myself for not being able to solve this problem. If I could tell my former self anything, I would tell her to give herself a break. When I think back on all the fits and starts, I am still amazed I did not drive myself absolutely crazy. I simply could not accept that I could not find an answer to my restlessness. Now, I can laugh at all of my needless worrying and fretting and know that God was truly up to something wonderful in the midst of it all. Accept that you are confused, and give yourself permission to be confused. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Know that over time, you will become less confused and the right path will begin to unfold itself.

Maintain Momentum

It is so easy to get mired in the day-to-day routine of life and forget to actively move forward in meaningful ways both personally and professionally. Yet forward movement is essential to uncovering your ultimate path. Until clarity comes, use the time to grow your skill set. Seek out more education opportunities that can help refine your skills. This will provide you opportunities to delve deeper into the areas you're interested in and help determine if you are in the right field. Second, make it a practice to attend several networking functions each month. Use this as an opportunity to meet people in your major and your potential dream fields. The goal is to keep moving forward, keep trying new things and exploring your chosen path. That is the only way you will begin to move forward in a productive way.

Use Fear to Your Advantage

Fear is a natural response to uncertainty of any kind, and in many ways, it protects you. But fear can lead to paralysis and end up stifling the very momentum you need to make progress and move closer to realizing some of your professional goals. Notice I didn’t say ignore fear. I think that is impossible. Instead, use it to your advantage. Take that added adrenaline and apply it to something purposeful like exploring your various options.

Refusing to give in to fear and allowing it to stifle your interests and passions is a necessity in order to make it out of college with your passions intact, and your focus clear.

I remember being fearful of making a mistake and being hesitant to try anything new because of that fear. I recall being fearful of choosing an impractical career path. I recall a well-meaning family member blurting out, “How are you going to feed yourself?” after I announced I would major in Art History and English and become a professor. As an 18-year-old about to start college, that one statement altered the course of my professional life. I spent years in school taking “sensible” pre-med courses instead of courses that fueled my passion for reading and writing. If you knew me, you would be laughing right now; I am a creative, entrepreneurial type and not cut out at all for the medical profession. In fact, my first time seeing a patient receive a shot made me dizzy, and I almost passed out. That was probably clue number one.

Refusing to give in to fear and allowing it to stifle your interests and passions is a necessity in order to make it out of college with your passions intact, and your focus clear.

The Outcome

Several years and many prayers later, God slowly started to reveal pieces of His awesome plans for me. Interestingly, I am far from the cookie-cutter career I was always trying to fit into. God is taking my talents and abilities and using them to craft a professional path uniquely me. I don’t have all the pieces in place yet, but I find that with each day I stay the course, I am closer to my desired end point. More importantly, I have dispensed with the “are we there yet?” sort of mentality, and I am learning to relish in the day-to-day highs and lows of the process. I allow myself to fully feel the elation of landing a new account and the frustration of getting a dial tone as I make my hundredth cold call. Just know that your plan is being revealed in the day-to-day.

So, relax. You may not be where you want to be right now, but God knew you would be right where you are. Accept His divine plan, and know that in the midst of it all He is up to some awesome things. The end result will be a better, more satisfied you.

2 Comments

Taryn J Cella

1

Taryn J Cella commented…

This was amazing to read! I need this more than anyone can now especially today. Im 23 years old and lost but now i know that i am right were i should be. Ill learn to enjoy the moment instead of running through it. Thank you!

Molly Boylan

1

Molly Boylan commented…

Thank you for writing this. I am graduating from College with a degree in English and an interest in nonprofit work. I feel this has calmed me for the moment. I feel like I have gone through the same process as the writer. weird! Thanks again, Shannon.

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