From a young age, we are aware we need to have long-term plans in order to succeed. Growing up, the most common question overbearing relatives asked me was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?" It was as if knowing the answer was a pressing concern for a 10-year-old to have.
Consequently, as I grew older, I grew increasingly nervous about the fact that I didn't feel interested enough in anything to dedicate my future life to it.
Every time I reached what I considered to be a critical juncture in my life, from which courses to take in high school to which colleges I should apply, there was always a lingering sense of anxiety. I didn't know what it was all leading to.
Ultimately, I decided that being a doctor was a career worth pursuing. After all, I was certainly smart enough, and my family and friends often commented that it was a very respectable and stable life for one to pursue.
It was only by a cruel twist of fate that the prestigious health science program I had my heart set on rejected me, forcing me to pursue my second choice: engineering. Despite my disappointment, I did not let this setback deter me.
I was still fairly set on becoming a doctor and planned to just major in biochemical engineering and apply to medical school upon graduation. It sounded quite easy... in theory.
By the end of my first year, seeds of doubt sprouted in my mind. I realized that I disliked chemistry labs, had no interest in the healthcare system, and when I spoke to medical students, I felt no passion toward the life they described.
On the other hand, I began programming Android apps just “for fun” and came to enjoy the time I spent at the recreational mathematics club I joined earlier in the year.
The decision should have been obvious at this point, but it wasn't. It was a grueling process plagued by heated discussions with my parents, a mountain of paperwork and constantly second-guessing myself.
Nonetheless, three years later, I graduated with a degree in applied math and computing, and I could not have been happier with my college experience.
Of course, I realize my story isn't unique, but, unfortunately, I think the ending of it is. I've seen too many peers become trapped in a program or job simply because they felt they had come too far to turn back.
The truth is most of them never opened their minds to other possibilities until, in their eyes, it was too late.
We should all be extremely wary when predicting how we’ll feel about something in the future, especially so such young people.
It seems ridiculous to me now that back in college, I was effectively making a decision that would affect at least the next four years of my life based on some preconceived notion I formed during adolescence.
The point is we need to all take smaller steps on our journeys through life and update our goals as we proceed. Even after I had made my decision regarding my university major, it wasn’t as if the fog of uncertainty surrounding the rest of my life magically lifted.
Life is a continually iterative process; what makes you content now might not hold true in a few years. And, that’s okay.
It’s okay to be uncertain about where you are heading in life, so long as you are always critically thinking about where you want to go. Every action we take provides us with information we can use to make better decisions in the future.
Sure, your first job out of college likely won't transform into your “dream career,” but at least you discovered what you don’t want to do. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be a little closer to finding out what does interest you.
As a disclaimer, I want to add that you should give every new opportunity an adequate time commitment before deciding it’s just not for you.
Don’t spend your whole life bouncing between careers or partners just because they seem unappealing at first. But, at the same time, don’t be afraid to acknowledge when something isn't working out. It’s a fine balance, which is only achieved through life experience.
More than any generation before us, our lives are filled with choices and the ability to dictate whom we will become. One could argue this is both a blessing and a curse, but it is important to never lose sight of the fact that there are many choices always available to us.
We don’t live in the same era our parents did, so don’t be afraid to take a more meandering path through life, as opposed to a linear one. Above all, be honest with yourself about what will bring you happiness, and try to filter out the external noise when deciding which course to take.
You are the only person who has to live your life.