Why you should think ahead - Macleans.ca

Why you should think ahead

Don’t struggle through four years of dissatisfaction


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.


Why you should think ahead

  1. A well thought out argument.I might add that the worst frustration of all in addition to all the points outlined in your telling article,is the painful observation that,when you have sacrificed your own passion to graduate and get into the field, you are working, collaborating and competing with people who do have a passion for that field,and you tend to become embittered further realizing you are bound to do so for your working life.It is ultimately essential to do a brutal self examination of who you really are sooner than later, try several things,unlikely though they be, success often comes disguised as failure.When you have passion behind your work most obstacles in your assignments dissappear.Its hard to describe, but you know it when you have it.

  2. That reminds me of what my retired neighbour is always telling me “Just do what you love”. He seems to be enjoying things nowadays, but I get the impression that he spent the majority of his life working in a job he didn’t like, saving money and dreaming of the day he could get away from that job.

    I don’t regret working a few years between highschool and applying to university. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that age anyways, and judging by how many people I talk to who’ve changed majors halfway through, I don’t think I’m the only one. Nothing wrong with changing directions and exploring different fields, but doing it through university classes always struck me as the expensive way of figuring it out.

    Another benefit of having spent time working is that I’m confident in my ability to earn a living, so university doesn’t feel like such a pivotal investment. I know in the back of my head that even if I don’t wind up with a career in the field I’m studying I can walk away with an education in something I love doing, and still pay the bills.

  3. “Just do what you love” – although a pretty obvious rule to live by, is so much easier said than done. Takes far more courage and guts than simply doing the “practical thing”.

    I took the University path: studied History at McGill and at graduation was given my (very expense) piece of paper. I loved the courses I took, yet throughout my time at McGill I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue afterwards. I had no idea what career path I wanted to take. Do I regret my choice? No. Had I instead taken the safe and practical route and chosen a program that would guarantee me a secure job, at first the financial aspects would’ve been appealing, but the absence of of passion would soon become unbearable and outweigh the financial allure.

    You only live once – don’t take the safe path. You don’t want to one day along the line ask yourself “what if…”

  4. Insightful posts Noah. I would be interested in hearing more of your thoughts on this notion of the “Quarter-life crisis”. I think that most university students struggle with its effects.