Career confusion can happen at any age. It may start during childhood, when a teacher says you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up and then crushes your dreams by explaining that “mermaid” is not a viable career option.
My personal career panic set in during a high school career assessment. As my classmates were celebrating their bright futures as engineers, pharmacists and executives, I couldn’t wait to see my top match.
That is, until I saw the words “professional clown.”
Though there were some wonderful careers on my list (writer among them), I could not see past those two words. If wearing oversized shoes and cramming into an undersized car was my most suitable option, what hope did I have?
It’s taken time, but I now realize that feeling confused about your career path is normal at any age. When I work with interns or talk to my younger sister, their career questions frequently come with a dose of panic and the question: “What am I doing with my life?”
My response is always the same: It is okay to be confused. No one has it all figured out. Believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
Let me set your mind at ease:
You aren’t married to your college major
Choosing a major is a common source of career anxiety. It can be a struggle to balance interests with career aspirations. What if you’re not sure what you like? What does a liberal arts education really teach? What sorts of jobs are possible with a STEM degree? What if you change your mind?
Don’t get overwhelmed. Picking a college major is not a lifetime commitment. Sure, you should be sensible about the choice. College is an investment, and you want to make it a smart one. But you can learn valuable skills in any major. The presentations you give, the papers you write and the internships you do in college are valuable, regardless of your major.
Only 27 percent of US college graduates work in jobs directly related to their major. If you’re one of the 73 percent who don’t, you can still have an amazing career. Ask Clarence Thomas (Supreme Court justice, English major), Christopher Conner (CEO of Sherwin-Williams, Sociology major) or Jill Abramson (Executive Editor of The New York Times, History and Literature major).
Your first career choice is not your last
Figuring out how to get a job after college can feel impossible when you add the pressure of your entire future to your first job search. Sometimes you have to try something to realize it’s not for you. Other times, you might try something new and discover that you love it more than what you were doing before. Your career is going to twist and turn as your experience level increases.
Technology changes and cultural shifts can also impact your career. I work with editors who tell stories of working for a newspaper in the pre-Google era. After decades of working in print journalism, they had to change careers because of the decline in the newspaper industry. You’ll have to adapt at some point in your career, even if you know exactly what you want to do.
And if you aren’t crazy about your first job, you can still learn from it. Paying attention to your likes and dislikes can help ease career confusion. If your favorite part of the job is the environment, you’ll learn that company culture is something to focus on in future job searches. Realizing that you work best on solo projects could inspire you to find a position that focuses on independent work.
As you grow in your career, you’ll naturally figure out what makes you happy. If you start to feel unsatisfied, figure out the reasons behind it. If you can fix it, try. If you can’t, start looking for the next opportunity.
You don’t need all of the answers to succeed
Getting started on your goals doesn’t mean you have to have your entire life figured out. Your path from college to career might be riddled with questions, but you don’t have to answer them all at once.
As Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
Even top-level executives go through moments of doubt. Having some career confusion is good because it means you care about what you’re doing and where you’re going.
So stop stressing, keep questioning and embrace your curiosity.
Erin Palmer is a digital content specialist who happily spends her days writing, editing and researching new stories. She has been published in The Chicago Tribune and The Huffington Post, yet she still gets excited every time she sees her byline. Interaction with readers makes her day, so reach out to her on Twitter @Erin_E_Palmer.