Yesterday, I realized that I am less than 8 months away from graduation, and I felt a familiar sense of panic starting to set in. It was identical to the sense of panic I felt in November, when blind terror led me to postpone graduation because I was just too afraid to decide what to do next. Yet here I still am, still undecided and still waiting for some epiphany on what to do next.
What if Oprah is wrong? What if there is no Aha moment? What if chasing my passion is not the right path to happiness and fulfillment?
I’ve searched in a lot of places trying to find the answer to what to do next: personality tests, career assessment tests, academic advisors, career advisors, Oprah and what feels like every article on the internet that swears it’s going to tell me how to pick a career. And at the end of almost all of them, there’s inevitably been that line that I’m tired of hearing, “Do what you love.” Is this really the right way to do this?
The artist in me wants to say yes, but my pragmatic side has started to have doubts. It’s this business of do what you love. As a 23 year old, can I really say I know what I love? Do I know enough of the world? Have I experienced enough to make a decision based on love? The one decision I made based on love in college was deciding to be an English major. Whilst I have loved my classes, here I am feeling unprepared to enter any world outside of English academia. Love has led me to happiness, but it has also limited my options. College is supposed to be a time to explore, but my love of literature was like blinkers. It prevented me from trying out other things and gaining other skills. And let’s be serious, skills are what get you hired, not love. Would I not be in a better position for making a decision if I had tried other things?
The problem with saying do what you love is that love isn’t instantaneous. Love grows. Take my present job as a supplemental instruction leader. I love it to bits. There are moments when I am sitting in meetings at work, laughing with my wonderful coworkers and I feel sad because I know that walking away from this job when I graduate is going to be a painful experience. But I didn’t love it when I began. In fact, after 3 weeks I was convinced that I had made a terrible mistake and thought about quitting. Only the question of how I was going to pay my rent stopped me from quitting. So I stuck it out, and now I count taking that job as one of the best, if not the best decision I have made in my college career. I was not following my passion when I picked this job. Facilitating group study sessions has nothing to do with being a better writer. Instead, I took the job because I felt I had the skills required to be good at the job and that I would learn some valuable skills. I took the job because I wanted to improve my public speaking skills and I thought it would look good on my résumé, but the job turned out to be so much more. It pushed me out of my comfort zone by requiring me to talk in front of strangers all the time and take control of a room. It taught me how to read people and how to explain things that are obvious to me to people who might not be able to make the connections. It taught me patience, and it introduced me to some incredibly awesome people. I would have never discovered any of this if I’d gone in search of love in a campus job.
When I look back at the experiences that have had the most meaning for me and led to great satisfaction, it’s been times when I’ve gone in search of new skills and new opportunities to use the skills I already have. A pursuit of skills and not of passion is where I’ve found fulfillment and, with time, love. I have talked to a lot of people I admire who say they love their jobs and with most of them, they picked a job because they had the skills it required or they were interested in the experience they could gain from the job. Love came later.
Perhaps love does softly. Maybe there is no instantaneous affinity that’s going to make the decision for you. And when I think about it, it’s a little ridiculous for someone who doesn’t believe in love at first sight to think that it will be love at first encounter with a profession. My conclusion is tread softly when people tell you to do what you love. You may lose out on opportunities just because you didn’t give them enough time for you to fall in love with them.