Written by Benjamin Thomas, Career Center Graduate Assistant, Master of Science, Industrial/Organizational Psychology.
Doubt is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is an absurd one. –Voltaire
Since kindergarten, education for most of us has been a very structured process. Even through high school, where we could pick our courses, electives, and activities, it was always clear what was waiting on the horizon for the next year. Now you’ve made it to college, and you’re finally the independent, grown-up student who makes all of his/her own decisions.
Allow that one to sink in…
While the university has a wide range of criteria and requirements for a degree or other certification, how you choose to meet these goals is up to you. Some students complete a four-year degree in three years, while others change majors and concentrations multiple times. There are so many options for us, the grown-up students, that it may seem hard to steer our efforts in the right direction. When someone else was telling you what to do for your education, maybe you experienced a sensation of restriction and weight. But now, that direction seems reminiscent of a heavy winter blanket: warm, secure, consistent.
I experienced all of these sentiments as an undergraduate, and I am catching a second dose of them as a graduate student. Good news: they’re normal. As hard as it can be to decide, I remind myself that the burden of choice means I can do anything. This encouraging thought of potential provides hope in some of those moments of doubt.
So, how do you sort it out? How do you behave like the independent, grown-up student who makes all of his/her own decisions?
You’re in college, right? What do college students do best? (Not that.)
They gather and synthesize information.
If you want to know what you should do, might it help to find out what you could do?
Talk to People Who Can Give You Career Information
A great place to start gathering information is with a trusted professor, a parent, a coworker or other individuals who could share with you their own experiences or synthesize information about your questions and doubts. These people like talking about themselves (as do most people), and probably like helping humble, young learners find out more about what they can do. These conversations can be informal, or more structured, like an informational interview.
Next, you could come speak to someone in the Career Center at MSU. Believe it or not, we do more than help you write your résumé. Our Career Resources Specialists are specifically trained for questions and choices like the ones you will have to make throughout college.
- If you came to college without a specific career or major in mind, we can help you generate and understand your choices.
- If you know you’d love to work in a certain industry or job, but don’t know how to get from here to there, we will help you create a road map for the future.
- If you aren’t sure about your major, we can talk with you about it and maybe clear things up.
This information, like the opinions and advice of the people you know in your life, is not a prescription. We don’t tell you what to do; we just provide you with information that can guide your decisions. While some people may be certain of what they want to do, our world does not lend itself to certainties. Probabilities, the basis of most of our decisions and process, carry some doubt.
Try to make the best choices based on the information you have, but remember that it’s okay if things don’t turn out exactly like you pictured them. There are many examples of extremely successful people who faced a series of failures and redirections in their path to greatness. Sometimes learning and understanding what you don’t want to do is as helpful as discovering what you do enjoy. Progress in any direction can often, in retrospect, be understood as progress in the ultimate direction.
Keep Things in Perspective
Regardless of your goals and decisions, keep things in perspective as you commit your efforts to the task at hand. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” but “the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” These clichés both support the idea of perspective: short-term goals must be completed to reach long-term goals. When you feel overwhelmed by the length of your degree program, commit to completing the first class, focusing on the steps needed to succeed there. As the homework of a course feels repetitive, visualize those moments you’ll celebrate when you’ve completed your degree: graduation, finding a career, building your life after graduation. Sometimes a change in perspective can be a powerful way to alleviate any doubt in your choices.
While no one can remove all doubt from their world, your time here at MSU does not have to be plagued by uncertainty. It is normal to have doubts. These uncertainties can motivate you to do what is necessary to understand yourself and your goals. The University offers many resources for you to take advantage of as you gain clarity. Gather information, speak to professionals like those in the Career Center, accept the possibility of redirection and failure, and try to keep things in perspective.