No matter where you are in the progress of your degree, or in your career at large, it is never too late to pause and take stock. To re-evaluate the decisions you have made and look to the possibilities that lay ahead. Where will this degree take you? What kind of job will you get? What do you want to be when you grow up? There are so many questions and options to consider. We often feel pressured to have it all figured out, but the truth is there is power in not having a plan for everything. It gives us room to explore our options, try something new and most importantly, to course correct when things don’t fit.
It is with this type of experimental approach to career planning in mind that we should go forward. University is very important for developing critical thinking skills, and you likely value education, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Yet, determining where you will end up post-graduation is not always a straight-forward process. You might have an idea of what you want to achieve, but the best way to figure it out is to try different things. By volunteering, gaining work experience or using a program such as SFU’s Co-op program you are able to practice what you are learning and get a sense for the type of work it is. It also exposes you to the nuances of the job and the field that perhaps you were not familiar with. This might even change your mind about what you want to do. And if that happens, let it.
For myself, I began with some fairly unmediated ideas about what field I wanted to go into and what my career might look like. My choices ran the gamut from psychologist, to journalist, to veterinarian and beyond, all while never completely settling on just one. My academic career has also not been of the standard variety – a B.A. in 4 years, out by age 22 – but instead has ebbed and flowed with the rest of my life. As I worked my way through my many career aspirations, I finally decided to major in Business.
Although it seemed to be the right move at the time, it turned out business just wasn’t for me. I discovered this while I was working in business operations and practicing first-hand what I was learning in school. The catch is, had I completed my degree first and then put it into practice, it would have taken me a lot longer to come to this realization. I could have continued with this degree, the one that “made sense”, but instead I allowed myself the opportunity to change my mind. I allowed myself the freedom to admit that this path was not for me, but that instead there was a different one that would be a better fit.
By combining my education with work experience I was able to discover what truly was the right fit for me – and that was writing, not business. And so, I switched my B.A. to English, explored my options and all the different varieties of the field and eventually moved to a job in communications where my skill set and interests are best aligned. Now I am only a few credits away from completing my degree and marrying my education and work experience. But I know that the path ahead is still fluid, it may still change. And I am open to the different opportunities that may arise along the way.
Don’t be afraid to abandon “the plan”, because choosing a career is not about selecting an archetype (like ‘lawyer’, or ‘doctor’, or ‘teacher’), but about exploring who you are, what your skill set is, and what type of career will be a good fit for you. It’s also important to keep in mind that you are going to change as well: who you are when you begin university, and who you are upon graduation, or a year into the work field, or five years on from that, are all likely going to be versions of yourself with a different set of perspectives, desires and even interests.
It is important to note that this is just my experience. You don’t have to extend your degree, or change your major several times or work full time while in school – your path is yours alone – but the point is you are not static and your idea of what your future career will look like shouldn’t be either. Be open to that. Know that you don’t have to have it all figured out when you select your major or even once you’ve finished your degree. You can adjust as you go. You might discover that you don’t really enjoy what you thought you might or that something unexpected speaks to you. You might discover this whole other world that was hidden before. Or perhaps that instead of being an archetype, you’re an alchemist.