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A Career vs. a Job

A friend of mine is still in college and recently she told me that she thought she was having a quarter life crisis.

Before I asked her to explain, I thought about myself and wondered if I too was having somewhat of a quarter life crisis. I asked her what she meant. She explained that she had changed her major yet again (she’s done this a few times) and she remarked “I don’t even know why [I changed my major].” Then she said, “I don’t even have a life plan anymore.”

I relate to that. I feel like I’m spinning and can’t quite see where to go or what direction to move in. I asked her if she had seen her college adviser. After all, plenty of college students go through similar confusions. She told me she had, but that those advisers had not been reassuring: “They pretty much say a degree is a degree, but I really want a career, not just a job.”

This statement hit me quite hard because it’s something I’ve grappled with since graduating. Before I graduated, I heard the exact same tune from advisers and other mature figures: “It isn’t about what degree  you get, it’s about getting a degree. Employers aren’t looking for specific degrees, just that you can communicate well, think critically, etc….”

Again, I wonder why our society is so degree-focused. It’s good for those who just want a job, but as my friend suggested, for those of us who want something more, getting a degree is serious business….Figuring out what we want to do with our lives isn’t simple and when we ask for help, we don’t want such meaningless answers like “well, a degree is a degree after all.”

I feel like I’m going crazy. I made the decision to move into this new job, which has worked out well. Things are going well. But, I am not satisfied with my life. More and more often lately, I’ve been really grappling with what I want to do. I want a career, but what career do I want. I want to do something, but I can’t think of what that something is. I guess I have been hit with a serious post-graduation crisis (the crisis all my professors warned me of).

They told me most students have it before graduation (maybe like my friend) and then they end up staying in college longer, going to grad school to prolong their entrance into the real world.

I made my choice not to do that. And here I am. I don’t regret not going to grad school right out of the gate – my pocket wouldn’t have been happy with that, anyway. I’m happy that I left a terrible job for a lower paying job.

Something is missing, however.

I am young. I am free. Really, I think I need to explore life more and do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I were in grad school right now. I just need to figure out what those things are.

Onward, as always.

P.S. Asimov’s rejected my short story submission, but I am emboldened by the fact that is lasted so long in “under review” status, so I promptly submitted elsewhere.

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  1. ALittleBirdie
    October 13, 2012 at 3:22 AM

    My first thought was to say “find something that you’re passionate about and pursue that!” but after some second thought, I realize it isn’t that simple. I’ve noticed too that this is a common crisis. Most university students change their major three or four times before graduating and end up having to stay a few extra years, like you reflect on. We call them “5th year seniors” here.

    I realize it isn’t that simple because I’ve had my own college-life crises. But pre-college, I went to a public high school that offered a very extensive honors program and everyone was in competition to see who could come up with the most prestigious sounding field of study. For example, I convinced myself that I was the next big Microbiologist when (hello!!) I am AWFUL at the sciences. They bore me. Literature has always been my passion and it took one good senior English course to convince me that I would declare that as my major. It had been so difficult to “settle” for English because all the pretentious students considered it an overrated and useless subject. When my classmates began discussing how useless English is because “we speak it every day,” I then understand that they were fools and I shouldn’t be ashamed of pursing my talents because they weren’t deemed “hipster” enough. ,

    So I declared English and was, fortunately, on the four year path to graduation… but what would I do with it? We’ve all been on the receiving end of this condescending question–“what are you going to do with your English major? Teach? (insert smirk here).” Jerks.

    There was NO way I wanted to teach. I wanted to pursue law and I felt like I always had to go on the defensive. (ie, Me: English is THE top undergrad major for pursuing a career in law. Ideally, it enables you to think logically, analyze critically, improve close-reading skills, etc.)

    But the concept of “academic prestige” isn’t the only big factor holding us back from pursuing satisfying and fulfilling careers.

    Perhaps the bigger one is fear. Fear of not being able to secure a job in our failing economy. Desperation has risen to an all time high (maybe aside from the Great Depression). The career search is a harsh and cruel reality for a generation seeking jobs that seem non-existent. It’s like playing a game of Where’s Waldo.

    After some extensive research I was forced to face the ugly truth–jobs in the law field are rapidly depleting and debt from law grad school is rapidly increasing. Thus, my second crisis.. Luckily, I realized that I also had a passion for student affairs and I’m an RA so I came up with the idea to get an MA in higher education, secure a job at a University that pays for grad school, and then attend law school. My English major still works because there isn’t a major requirement for student affairs. I can still take my LSAT and I’m just taking a round-about path to achieving my desired goal. Some detours are necessary endeavors.

    So my advice is to think practically but not to give up. Find an alternative route that may not be the “typical” one, but will get the job done nonetheless.

    I’ve strayed from the point a bit. To answer your question, I think we’re a degree-driven society because 10 years ago just having a degree WAS all it took to get a good job. But with our current economy and the huge number of people who now hold degrees, the world of jobs and careers is more competitive and more selective. Students need to know this. They need to think not only of what they want to do, but think about HOW to get there. Having a degree isn’t enough.

    And I think those advisors need to catch up and change their tune. We live in a different time.

    Good post.

    • samanthaeden
      October 13, 2012 at 7:30 PM

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment and for sharing your own experience. I think I’ve been grappling with the practicality of all my plans.

      The main issue is that I’ve never had a solid idea about where I wanted to end up after college. I’m a serious planner and my career plan has always stumped me. I thought I was interested in law, but when I worked in a law office, I found myself far more interested in the literature I was reading than I was in the law surrounding me. So, that plan ended and that’s when my crisis really began.

      I guess what I most wonder is if I should continue job hopping (no easy feat in this economy) until I find something that somewhat clicks.

      Maybe thinking about it more will help the light bulb.

      🙂

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