My last post, which suggested choosing a major based on passion rather than career considerations, drew some interesting feedback. The comment essentially suggested that it is better to be unhappily employed than to have studied something you love and risk unemployment. “We do not need more liberal arts graduates that are unemployed and underemployed because they took the bait of ‘study what you love,'” said the commenter.
While I surely concede that employment is generally necessary for a stable and happy life (although Thoreau wouldn’t likely agree), the idea of studying something you don’t enjoy only to get a job that you are no more likely to enjoy still strikes me as a frightening sacrifice to have to make. Having been reunited with several old friends over the Christmas break, I’ve noticed a very consistent trend of dissatisfaction with their courses of study and with university in general. As one friend put it, “I worked so hard in high school to get good marks and win scholarships so that I could go to university, only to get here and realize that I am no better of a person for having accomplished it.” I think this comment illustrates very well the problem of pursuing a goal because you think it’s practical or because you think you’re expected to, without coming to the conclusion that you ought to because you want to, independently of external influence.
Two of my friends are taking a year off from university altogether, to pursue activities they actually love and to discover what makes them happy. I have no doubt that once they answer this important question, they will return to university, study what they love, and translate the knowledge, skills, and passion (this is the important part) into a fulfilling career. Other friends (and I) are staying in university but are changing their course of study altogether. The qualities that I think are essential to a successful career are not developed by struggling through four years of stress and dissatisfaction. Not only does studying something you love facilitate a better GPA, but it allows for innovation, creativity, thinking and exploring beyond the beaten path. Surely these are the qualities that foster a truly successful career.
Left unaddressed, the quarter-life crisis I am witnessing among my peers – characterized by questioning the meaning of previously held beliefs and goals and disappointment with a major life change – will yield nothing more than another crisis, of mid-life this time, 20 years down the road. A middle-aged corporate lawyer I know helped shed some light on the crux of the issue: “Find something you love,” he said. “If you can’t, go to law school.” Discovering what it is you love is certainly no easy task, but to ignore it altogether in favor of pursuing a career is ultimately dangerous. The discovery will inevitably come eventually, so by actively pursuing the question and using the search as a lens through which to view the rest of your life ensures that the answer doesn’t come too late: once you’ve already spent many years and many thousands of dollars pursuing something only to realize you don’t actually enjoy it, making the switch will be much harder than getting it right in the first place. To put effort into exploring your self and your passions before settling on a job-focused university career is thus to avoid suffering later.