What Career Path Should I Take?

After walking off the stage with your tassel turned and a diploma in your hand the adrenaline is high and you’re ready to take on the world! The next day the sparkle starts to fade as you as yourself, “So now what?”

Ian was one of the twentysomethigns who met with Dr. Meg Jay to move pass this point. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do which left him feeling lost. He described this feeling as treading in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight.

Having too many choices can cause us to want to tread water rather than swim in one direction. Treading water can keep us in one place but at least we are staying afloat by meeting minimum requirements like paying monthly bills.

We are afraid of choosing one direction because it might sacrifice opportunities of an alternate direction. Instead of taking a risk we stay right where we are at our dead end, overqualified job with no capital, hoping… dreaming that a choice will be made for us or suddenly become clear. We wait for a raft to come drifting by offering protection, when in reality that is not going to happen.

“Not knowing what you want to do with your life – or not at least having some idea about what to do next – is a defense against that terror.”

In other words, not knowing what to do is not a reason to wait to take action; it is an excuse to not face the terror of taking charge of your life and making decisions.

“Twentysomethings who make choices are happier than those who tread water.”

We do have some idea of what we want or what we could do. Dr. Meg Jay suggests we start by looking at our past and thinking about our futures.

What were some of your interests growing up? Did you develop any skills? Maybe you enjoyed working with your hands or working with numbers.

In the future do you see yourself working behind a desk or out in the field? Can you see yourself working in the city? Maybe you’d like to see yourself working for a corporate company or for a nonprofit.

“You’ve spent more than two decades shaping who you are. You have expectations, interests, strengths, weaknesses, diplomas, hang-ups, priorities. You didn’t just this moment drop onto the planet or, as [Ian] put it, into the ocean. The past [twenty-something] years are relevant.”

Unfortunately our parents have been lying to us… the sky is not the limit. The truth is we have skills and passions we developed in the past. We have desires and dreams about our futures. All of this narrows down out options for potential career paths.

Asking yourself questions about your past and future, narrowing down your options leads us to what psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas calls the unknown thought.

“Unthought knowns are those things we know about ourselves but forget somehow. These are the dreams we have lost sight of or the truths we sense but don’t say out loud. We may be afraid of acknowledging the unthought known to other people because we are afraid of what they might think. Even more often, we fear what the unthought known will then mean for ourselves and our lives.”

Twentysomethings need to take the time to explore our unthought knowns. Be honest. Explore every avenue. It could be helpful to write down a list of your skills, experiences, interests from the past and your thoughts on the future. Seeing them written down in front of you will make them seem real. You can compare and research reasonable options for which path to take.

Remember, making a choice does not mean another choice is lost. It only means your next choices will be “better informed”.

*All quotes from this post and this post series come from The Defining Decade and should be accredited to Dr. Meg Jay.*


11 thoughts on “What Career Path Should I Take?

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  2. Another wonderful post Katie. I have to say though that given today’s job market for recent grads, you better start making these decisions long before you graduate if you want any chance at a job right out of school.

    • Thank you! I’m loving all the inspiration I’m getting from reading “The Defining Decade”. (I’ve got less than 70 pages left!) And you’re right, this would be great advice to have as your applying for school. It would really help students pick classes to build more skills and qualifications.

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