At the turn of the millennium a new generation was minted, one that was fortunate enough to inherit the achievements of the past and challenged to address the problems of the future. Generation Y, or more colloquially Millennials, have been raised in an environment with unlimited possibilities. The age-old promise that “we can be whatever we want to be” rings truer than ever before, and this assurance does not fall on deaf ears. Millennials represent one of the most ambitious generations to date, striving for greatness while pursuing the promise their parents made them as children. Though today’s job landscape boasts a plethora of potential careers, this introduces a fairly recent problem – the paralysis of choice. Having been through this process myself, I suggest students spend some time thinking about what they truly want in a career before choosing a college major.
Choose a College Major …Any Major!
From tax accountant to chicken sexer to professional flâneur, college students today can select from a seemingly endless grab bag of careers. While some may consider these individuals fortunate, Millennials currently struggle to identify their own niche in this world. This has resulted in 75% of American college students applying to college as an “undecided” or changing their major at least once. The traditional advice given to confused high school seniors is “follow your passion,” “do what you love,” and don’t forget to get paid. I’m here to tell you that there are other very important considerations that are too often overlooked.
The “C” Word
Do you yearn for the privacy of a cubicle? Do you want to “happy hour” with your colleagues at 4 pm? Do blue jumpsuits excite you? These are the real questions, all which help to describe a company or industry’s culture. The “C” word that is on the lips of recruiters across the nation has not yet made its way into high school guidance counselor meetings, and this is truly unfortunate. While adults wax on about following our passions, Millennials pursue an idea rather than a reality. While tax accounting may play to someone’s love for arithmetic, the corporate environment and lack of collaboration may starkly contrast with their social personality.
Finding Your Place and Space
In my experience, and that of my peers, we have acknowledged the significant impact a business’s culture has on our satisfaction with the job. Though you should do what you love, the industry you choose determines where you spend a third of your life; and the difference between a cubicle and an open floor plan is night and day. Sadly, when selecting their college majors, students typically neglect this facet of their career. Instead, they focus on what subjects they excel in, rank their hobbies and passions, and try to figure out how that translates to a future career. All without ever having exposure to the real world. And the unfortunate thing is, this process could be much easier.
Think – how many colleagues do you want, how many hours do you want to work each week, how would you like to dress, do you want to work with others or do you prefer to work alone? These questions, though seemingly broad, can help you quickly eliminate professions that you would not enjoy. For example, if you want to wear jeans to work, roll in around 10 am, and are willing to work after hours, a corporate job may not be the best fit. And fortunately, understanding the kind of environment you enjoy is much easier than determining your dream profession. Academic and extracurricular experiences offer us keen insight into what we like and what we don’t, so why don’t we take this into consideration when planning our career?
Exercise Your Options
If anything of value comes from this short essay, I hope that at least a few soon-to-be-high-school-graduates do this exercise before choosing a college major. Create two columns on a piece of paper. On one side, write down all of the characteristics you would like in a job regarding attire, workspace, collaboration, hours, geographical location, etc.; and on the other, brainstorm some of your passions and career goals.
While both are important, the left column should be used as a filter to challenge and reinforce the items on the right, hopefully resulting in a more focused list of potential college majors. Ultimately, happiness and success can be more about the who, the where, and the how, than the what.
Photo credit: Joi Ito