At Thanksgiving dinner last fall, my aunt asked me a question more anxiety-inducing than the classic: “How’s your love life?” She asked: “What’s your plan after graduation?” This sent me into a full state of panic because, believe it or not, up until that point I hadn’t really considered life after Queen’s.
If you’re unfamiliar with the mid-degree crisis, it’s essentially this: a panicky time in your undergrad during which you question all of your academic decisions thus far and wonder if you’ve jeopardized the life you really want after university. Not fun.
I started to feel that way about my Con-Ed/Psyc degree. I wasn’t interested in becoming a psychologist, and my two kindergarten practicums discouraged me from teaching (and ever entering a pre-K classroom, like, ever again). I wasn’t in love with any job experience I’d had, nor did I have any idea of what I might like to do after graduation, let alone this summer.
When you’re 20-something there’s a lot of pressure to follow a certain path and check off certain boxes as you go. The climate at university romanticizes a linear and stepwise progression through life. You grow up, you go to university, you get a job, and then you settle down and have babies and assume the responsibilities of parenthood.
To state the obvious, this trajectory is idealistic (and boring), but it’s what we’re spoon-fed. We’re surrounded by stories of people who knew what they wanted to do from the womb and get these amazing jobs right out of university. That’s why I had a mini heart attack when my aunt asked me the dreaded question: “What’s your plan?” To quote my girl Pheebs from Friends, my basic reaction was: “Plan? I don’t even have a Pla.”
I took the next week to do some self-discovery.
I let go of what “made sense” given my degree and my work experience (camp counselling), and spent some time thinking about who I was in my heart of hearts. I wrote down all of the things I like to do, and found that a passion for creating was a common denominator amongst them. I love writing lyrics, tinkering with media deliverables, and coming up with ideas that move people. That self-discovery was the first step in what would be a huge (but exciting!) change of direction for me. That simple change in perspective led me to MUSE Magazine and to my current internship at an amazing creative agency in downtown Calgary.
A linear progression from undergrad-to-career is a nice idea but it may not be realistic for everyone. For many of us, it won’t happen that way. A good chunk of us have absolutely no idea where we’ll end up after university. A bigger chunk of us, I would argue, have no idea if our undergrad will even have any relevance to our future interests!
The good news is, undergrad can be a stepping stone if you want it to be. It can teach you about what you don’t want to do, which is just as important as discovering what you do want to do. Take some of the pressure off by re-conceptualizing undergrad as a vehicle through which you can experience self-growth and learn from a smorgasbord of students in many disciplines.
Coming into yourself is an incremental process that takes time. How are you supposed to know, at the ripe age of 19, what you want to dedicate yourself to for the next three or four years? For me, it was kind of an eeny-meeny-miny-moe situation.
Some of us will have one of those “BLIMEY! I SHOULD DO THIS FOR A LIVING!” moments, but some of us won’t. It might be a process of trial and error. But it also might be a matter of not trying at all, enjoying the ride, and dipping your toes into any water that shows up along the way.
For those of you who think you goofed up your choice in deciding a major or minor, here’s a quote from one of my fave gurus out there, Gabby Bernstein: “Obstacles are detours in the right direction.” If you think you took a misstep, that’s okay! ‘Twas a misstep in the right direction (if that makes any sense at all).
Feeling lost in your undergrad can be disheartening, I’ve been there. So, here are five things you can do if you think you’re having a mid-degree crisis:
- Write down all the things you love to do and conduct some research on what jobs might let you do those things.
- Travel or apply for a study abroad program! Meeting loads of people with different histories, degrees, and job experiences can be really inspiring.
- Volunteer or reach out to a company to ask if you could shadow an employee for a day/week! A lot of companies are really receptive to self-starter initiatives like this.
- Intern for a summer! My brother – a recent Engineering grad – is currently doing a dive internship in Madagascar to explore his interests in ocean conservation. How cool is that?
- Go to the career centre at Queen’s! We have some great academic advisors that can steer you in the right direction.
Life is anything but linear. Every day is an opportunity for a fresh start, and no experience is expendable. Be gentle with yourself and your time at university, because it really is fleeting.