Hi Sarah,

I’m a junior in college, and that essentially means that I’m supposed to have my life figured out, but I feel like that’s not true at all! I am still undeclared in my major, although I’ve been focusing on economics and international studies during my first two years. I’ve been looking for jobs this summer and each time I interview with a consulting firm or a bank I find myself sitting there thinking about how I don’t want that to be my life. Last summer I was working at the American Embassy in Paris, and looking back I realize that what I love so much about it was being exposed to all of the contemporary art galleries and exhibits which really solidified my passion for art.

I feel like it’s too late to switch my major, and I feel like it’s not a good idea to pursue something new because I’ll be so behind and I’ll be at a disadvantage. The fact is, I don’t know what’s out there. As youthful and naive as this may sound, I’d really like to use this summer to explore the design field and be able to know at the end of that experience whether it is something I’d still want to do after college. Is it too late to switch my major? How do I know what field is the right field for me? Why am I having such a hard time choosing?

Thanks,
Having a hard time choosing my major


Dear HARD TIME CHOOSING:

I’m going to offer you a few random pearls of wisdom that I’ve heard from friends and learned along the way. Tuck these in your back pocket for the extra-stressful days.

It’s never too late for ANYTHING. If you want to start singing, dancing, running a business, publishing, investing – it’s never too late. Don’t feel like you missed the boat because you haven’t started yet. Instead, celebrate all that you have learned so far, what you’ve been exposed to, and how that has helped you understand yourself better. Have you ever met someone who started something in their 50’s, and thought, I want to be like you? The most amazing people in our lives are those who try everything and never give up on their dreams. Don’t be held back by your own doubts and thoughts – too often what holds us back is some mental story we’ve created about why we’re “too late” or not qualified. Just do it, no matter how hard or scary it is.

Failures are not failures, they are successes. If you spent five years learning about something and trying it out and realizing that it’s not for you, it is NOT A FAILURE. You’ve learned/analyzed/grown/deliberated/decided – and chances are you have acquired some useful skills along the way. A failure means that you’ve tried. Appreciate the opportunities you have to explore, learn, and practice. Even if you change your mind again in five years, you’ll still have learned about how to communicate, practiced business, budgeting, managed projects, made friends and new contacts, etc. The list never ends.

Take baby steps. You are not alone if you get really overwhelmed with the feeling of “I don’t know what I want to do with my life, ACK, why can’t I decide and why does it seem like everyone else knows what they want and I’m the only confused/depressed/scared/anxious one?!” When this happens to you, remember to break down your life plan into tiny, concrete pieces. You sound like you are a planner – and I am one, too. When I get obsessed with making a plan I have to remember to slow down, chew my “food,” and take it one bite at a time.

Full disclosure: In my mind, my life plan sometimes gets on a high speed train and sounds something like this: “Okay, first I’m going to work for 3 years, then I’m going to take my license exams, after 4 years, I’ll start my own business, when I’m 35, I want to be running my own firm, and when I’m 43, I’ll have 3 kids, a husband, and I’ll be the dean of a school, and be wealthy and comfortable, and …” [Yes, my life plans are that ambitious. It’s exhausting.] Unfortunately, I have to remember the next nugget:

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. The flipside to being so motivated, inspired and planful is that it can stress you out and make you really anxious in the present moment. The best advice I heard was recently was a gentle reminder that sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan. That’s part of the fun of it!  It’s unexpected, scary, hard, overwhelming, and wonderful – beyond what you can even guess. Can you imagine if your life did go exactly to plan? How boring would it be to know every detail in advance, and never be able to stray from your plan!

Be grateful for choices – and don’t be afraid of making a decision. Make a decision, based on the information you have, and follow through. Indecisiveness can be a true wall that holds us back. When I get a case of the “what should I do” anxieties, I am reminded of a good friend of mine from college. She told me of the extreme lengths her family took to get her to the United States to be able to study, and how she was the first woman in her family to get a degree. I agonized over “picking a major” and after a few months of indecision she finally looked at me and said, “For crying out loud, make a decision already!” It was funny at the time but it was also a reality check: No one decision will ever be a “perfect” decision. We may move forward with doubt, but in the end, we should be grateful that we had the choice to make the decision in the first place.

On those notes, good luck choosing your major!  Enjoy learning, enjoy your time at the University, and don’t be afraid to try anything you want to try.


Get my monthly newsletter, not available anywhere else: The SKP Monthly.