Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Easiest (and Worst) Decision You'll Ever Make

I was recently asked to give advice to a family friend who is in college and having trouble deciding on a major. I wasn't sure what to tell her, given my current situation. But after some thought, I've come up with what I think is some excellent advice:


As an undecided college student, you will be led to believe that choosing a major must involve a great deal of thought and effort. You will be urged to assess your interests and abilities, while considering a dizzying array of job outlook statistics. It will be suggested that you peruse the descriptions in the course catalog and highlight the ones that are of interest. You may be coerced into a computerized career assessment that will offer a series of bizarre recommendations, such as “Avoid religious activities, farming/forestry, and supervision” and “Pursue performing arts, astronomy, and child development.” Someone you love will buy you a shiny new book that vows to help you “Find the perfect career!” and “Discover your life purpose in seven simple steps!”

These are empty promises, I promise you. Forget about deep introspection. The answer isn’t hiding deep inside of you, waiting to be uncovered. Kick back, relax, and accept the fact that you’re completely clueless.

Deciding on a career in college is like choosing a spouse before you’ve ever dated anyone. You can’t possibly make the right decision, because you only have a vague idea of what you’re looking for in an ideal mate. It takes years of unsuccessful dating to nail down the specifics. “Attractive and funny” eventually becomes “a morning person who knows how to use the word ‘ironically’ and is willing to clean a toilet.” It’s the same with picking a profession. Right now, your ideal career is probably something along the lines of “high-paying with unlimited vacation days.” If you stumble upon that job, let me know.

When it comes to declaring a major, I recommend selecting entirely at random. Don’t waste your time and energy agonizing over the decision when you could be drinking to excess or trying to get laid. Flip a coin. Point blindly to a page in the course catalog. Let your Facebook friends decide. Regardless of the effort you put into this decision, the probability of it working out is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1%.

Now, don’t panic, you won’t be stuck toiling away in a job you despise for the next forty years. Thankfully, times have changed. More than ever, middle-aged Americans are switching careers, pursuing multiple avenues, and going back to school. You know that weird old person you’ve seen around campus? In ten years, that could be you!

It’s a fact of life that the path to a fulfilling career entails spending several miserable years in the wrong profession. Five years after you earn a degree in earth science, you will finally recognize your passion for fashion. It might take ten years in advertising to realize that you were destined to become an industrial hemp grower. You may have to suffer the humiliation of being fired from your accounting job in order to discover your promising future as a rodeo clown. But don’t let that discourage you. If you were to survey all of the happy, successful people out there, you’d find that most of them lucked into their calling after a string of other gigs. Do you think the inventor of the Beerbrella could’ve predicted his life’s work at the age of nineteen? Bill Murray was a pre-med student until he got kicked out of school for a marijuana conviction and became the actor we all know and love. Colonel Sanders worked as an insurance salesman and a streetcar conductor and didn’t sell his first chicken until he was forty!

Remember that college is a time to open one’s mind. Aspire to be a well-rounded individual. And when you are forced to join the ranks of the “decided,” don’t overanalyze it. Pick a major, any major. And be prepared to redefine yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Haha! Let your facebook friends decide is the best advice ever! (kidding!)

    But seriously, you are so right. I starting off wanting to go into advertising, got accepted to the School of Business. Started taking microeconomics, macroeconomics, statistics... Maybe the thought of an super competitive career scared me or maybe it was all the math classes to come?

    After the 1st year, I changed my major to earth science education. Then off to grad school for geology. Hated it. What? I thought for sure i would enjoy that. Then back to school for advertising, but this time on the art/design side.

    I'm now an art director at an ad agency. I graduated with a BA degree in Geography and an AAS in Advertising Design (4 years after getting my BA). So, fourteen years after that naive graduating senior said, "I want to create ads." Here I am. Who could have planned for that?

    I'm so glad to see that you are offering real advice, Jami.