Stay out of your own way

It’s as much a ritual of fall as football season and the leaves changing – young people heading to college. I thought about this in reading a blog post that based college success on three words. While the author is entitled to the words he chose, let me offer up three others: have a plan. The vast majority of undergrads will change majors at least once and some will do so as many as three times. Nothing particularly wrong with that; these are 19- and 20-year olds, after all.

Finding yourself is part of life’s journey but the trip can be expensive, thousands of dollars worth of expensive. Did you wind up where you expected to be? One of my daughters struggled mightily to pin down the appropriate minor, so major angst seems is not exactly a banner headline. So what’s my point, you ask?

Back to the three key words: have a plan. Anywhere from 20 – 50% of incoming students are undecided; again, 19- and 20-year olds. Did you have a life plan at that age? I don’t mean an idea of what you wanted to do but an actual plan that fit who you are. More likely, you picked a major because the program was one that had demand for graduates, you picked a course of study based on family history or the family business, or you picked one because a particular occupation sounded cool. How’s that working for you?

I will surprise no one by saying that chances of career success are greater when you 1) go into a field you find challenging and interesting, and 2) go into a field for which you are suited. How do you know you are suited? Assessments that identify your thinking style, the behavioral traits that define you, and the things that you find interesting. Chances are, you will find that could do well in areas you have not considered. Doesn’t mean you have to pick one of those areas but an assessment will at least leave you equipped to pursue options that play to your strengths and that involve activities that you like, increasing your chances of success.

Every career field is not for every individual and people complaining about their jobs is as frequent as complaints about the weather. The Gallup survey cited found that only 13% of people, 13%!, relished their jobs, looked forward to working, and saw themselves as part of something worthwhile. Most of the rest are what a colleague of mine calls “at-leasters,” people who do at least enough to get by and stay employed. What a horrible way of spending at least one-third of your life.

A good point can be made that students should not declare majors at least until they finish their freshmen year. Earlier in this piece, you saw what the cost of indecision is in terms of additional student loan debt and out of pocket costs. But there is also a cost in terms of your life’s progress and your own peace of mind that are doing something you were meant to do. College is supposed to be a time when critical thinking skills are developed, right? Use some of that thinking to take a critical look inward. Each of us has traits and skills that portend success in given fields. Instead of taking a test for a grade in a class, take a test to map a course for what follows.

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