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There’s Nothing Wrong With Not Knowing What You Want To Do With Your Degree

We’ve all heard it said about university: “if you’re going to spend all that money and time then it better get you a good job.” And while many people choose degrees for this very reason, that’s no indication that choosing one that doesn’t provide you with an obvious career path is wrong. Here, Hannah Franklin discusses why not knowing what you want to do with your degree isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, it can actually be exactly what you need.

Part of the joy of university is having the time to study something you love without constantly being plagued by thoughts of the future. Or at least it should be.

Unfortunately, the future seems to weigh heavily on every student’s mind these days, often more so than their actual degree. After all, university is expensive, and perhaps it’s only realistic to choose a degree that all but guarantees you a job at the end. Let’s be real though. Many, if not most, students don’t choose a specific degree to get a specific job at the end. University doesn’t have to be a means to an end. It’s a time to commit yourself to not committing yourself, to immerse yourself in newfound freedom, doing a lot of your studying in pyjamas and eating last night’s pizza for breakfast.

Like many other students, what I struggled with the most at university was the knowledge that, much as I loved studying English Literature, I was uncertain about what I wanted to do with my future, and often this made me feel like I’d therefore made a mistake. I’m a firm believer in the notion that if you love what you’re studying then you should never regret it. But I also experienced that pressure to justify my degree, and when hunting for a job post-graduation became a real issue, I began to wonder if I had dug myself into a trap.

I’ve had, and still have now, some vague ideas of things I could happily do and enjoy, but I’ve never really known. As friends and course mates reeled off five-point-plans, I nodded and smiled politely as my stomach did a nervous dad-dance of panic. Words like career aptitude, chosen pathway and applicable skills echoed in my mind like a demented bell tolled by a terrifying figure of adulthood clutching a mortgage document and a tax returns form. I felt like I was standing at a crossroads with no idea where to go.

Does the fact that I had no idea what I was going to do next mean I did the wrong degree though? No.

photo provided

photo provided

As a graduate I found myself recalling the times I’d heard or read that humanities subjects particularly, but not exclusively, often leave their students stranded, without the clear path of say a lawyer or a doctor. Each job vacancy I found seemed to require more experience than the last and I wondered if I really had what it took to succeed.

“In a funny kind of way, not knowing what I was going to do next wasn’t trapping me; it was setting me free.”

In the end though, I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t know for certain what I wanted to do, then I did know that I could probably do anything, within reason obviously. I couldn’t see it at first, but in a funny kind of way, not knowing what I was going to do next wasn’t trapping me; it was setting me free. Anything could happen. I could open any doors I wanted and no one could be disappointed. Not even me.

Of course, I’m aware that this is an extremely optimistic outlook, and I’m not in any way denying that, as graduates, not having a clear path to follow is daunting. However, what I am saying is that a lot of the time, it’s only daunting because other people make you feel that you should be daunted. If there’s any time in a person’s life when it’s OK to not know what you’re doing, surely it’s now?

“Feeling lost can feel a bit like failing.”

I spoke to a few of my friends, fellow and soon to be graduates, about how they felt about stepping into the adult world in these tempestuous times, just to make sure I wasn’t being incredibly naive. Izzy told me candidly that, despite her slight uncertainty about graduate life, she didn’t regret studying. “I had no doubt that I wanted to go to university,” she explains. “And whether or not I get paid more for having a degree doesn’t matter because I’ve gained so much knowledge and experience.”

Another friend, Seb, agreed that he, like me, is beginning to relish the complete freedom of graduate life and the possibilities of the future. Empathising with my feelings in the summer after I graduated, Hattie admitted that “feeling lost can feel a bit like failing” but that she firmly believes that, in the end, we’ll end up where we want to be.

“Not having a plan might leave you feeling stranded, but it also gives you the chance to find the skills and possibilities to rescue yourself with.”

It seems that, like myself, a lot of young people, despite heading down the straight and narrow path of academic study and feeling a little daunted post-graduation, are still hopeful about the new freedom and openness of the life we’re faced with as graduates. It might take longer than we think to traverse the roads and cross the paths we want to, but it’s in those moments that we discover opportunities and abilities we didn’t know of before. Something that really struck me when talking to my friends was that all of them were appreciative of the time to discover new skills and passions they didn’t know they had before. Although not having a plan might leave you feeling stranded, it also gives you the chance to find the skills and possibilities to rescue yourself with.

The moment we regret trying to improve ourselves, doing what we love, or fearing more than hoping, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice.

Ruminating over my friends’ words I thought about the problem I found, and still find now, with the prescriptive idea that we must decide and know our futures so we can start getting ahead. I think that’s a little too hasty for those of us who aren’t sure yet. Carve out your path by all means but do so knowing that what you do doesn’t have to be defining of who you are. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know yet, it doesn’t matter if right now you’re simply taking the steps you need to to keep on moving while you try to figure it all out. Surely we should all mourn the bleak perspective that you shouldn’t embark on a journey as exciting as university because you don’t yet know its end destination?

While I’m currently working part-time and researching opportunities for the future I’m also learning more about my passions. I’ve been doing more creative work, I’ve been able to invest more time in my writing, and I’m learning more about what I enjoy doing while I have the time to do so. I might not be in the position I had optimistically hoped for last year, but I’m also learning to adapt to both my fears and hopes for the future, and that’s a lesson I would hate not to learn.

So, take your time. Enjoy your degree, whether you have a plan for the future or not. Study what you love just because you love it, take a job and love it, take a job and hate it, stick it out for a while or quit in the end. Then try again (and again) because we know good things don’t come easily. Most of all, just remember that even if you’re taking your path as it comes, without knowing what’s ahead or where you’ll end up, that’s OK. You’ll get there.

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