I tried thinking my way into a career path once. Not just tried; my face was scrunched up, it felt like my bedroom was shaking, and I think my hair even went blond for a moment. I was adamant on deciding everything I ever wanted in life right then and there. If I just concentrate hard enough, I thought, then I’ll be able to find whatever answer there is hidden deep inside me.
Wouldn’t that have been nice?
Not knowing what I wanted to be was a confusing thing, especially for my then-premature 12th grade brain. It can be frustrating, constantly disappointing, not knowing what you should do in the future. It kind of shoots your self-esteem down a couple notches too, especially when it seems like everyone around you knows what they want to do (when they really don’t). It’s no wonder I wanted to get rid of all those negative emotions. Between all that ‘stuff’ and the random sense of conviction I had at that moment, I really thought that I should have been able to bust out a plan.
Obviously, that didn’t work, the same way it hadn’t worked out the 100 other times before, or the many other times since. I’d give you an exact number, but it grows on a weekly basis.
4 years later, I can say with confidence that there are two reasons why my plan to plan didn’t work out.
First of all, there is no perfect answer hidden deep inside of me. I realized that you can’t make a career plan by thinking any more than you can make a baby by doing the same thing. It can only be done through experience: getting out into the world and looking for the answers bit by bit.
Did you know? There’s this rumor that the meaning of life is hidden behind the canned beans at Wal-Mart. If you’re desperate for answers, that’s where you start looking.
Is that a decent philosophy for career planning? I think so.
After all, the “canned beans” can be anything. If you do something new, unusual, or “Why would I ever do that” worthy, you’re looking behind the canned beans at Wal-Mart.
When you find yourself going to the gym for the first time with your friend, that’s you looking behind the canned beans. When you write blog posts like this one, instead of normal blog posts that won’t get you fired, that’s looking behind the canned beans. And if you ever find yourself recognizing an inkling of a new talent in volunteering, or if one day you realize that you really like listening to speeches, organizing events, or swimming, that’s you finding what you were looking for, and it was right behind the canned beans all along.
Did that way of thinking help me out as much as I thought it would? No. I was looking for something that would take away all my uncertainty and leave me totally convinced that career X was the perfect fit for me. That doesn’t really jive with everything I’ve learned since then though. If I could sum it up into a sentence it would be as follows:
The feelings of uncertainty that come with careers never really goes away.
You could be sitting in the car with your parents, driving to The Keg with a PhD in neuroscience in your left hand and your graduation cap in your right hand, with an internship at the biggest neuroscience lab in the world and STILL be wondering if you were destined to be a writer or not.
Truth be told, if you stressed over what you were going to do with your life before you figured it out, you’ll probably still be stressed out about it after you figure it out too. It’s just the way some people (me) are wired.