by Sarah Hastings
I’ve been there. As a career counselor, I often meet with students and alumni who ask questions about career planning and the job search that I also had at different points throughout my education and career. When I think back to my own indecision as an undergraduate, I remember finding it helpful at times to hear that someone else was uncertain about what to do next. Sometimes I felt like I was the only one! So, if it makes you feel better…
When I left for college in the early 90s, I had very clear career goals. I was going to be a pediatrician! I liked science and math in high school and knew I wanted a career in medicine. If that isn’t convincing enough for you, then you should know this dream went as far back as my childhood. Medical school, here I come!
As I forged ahead and began the premed coursework, my gut was telling me that it wasn’t going to be the right fit for me after all. Actually, it wasn’t just my gut telling me, it was also my head, arms, the stars, the moon…get the picture? I didn’t need a palm reader, I could see my future and organic chemistry was not in it.
I then went on what you could call a crash course in exploring what I “wanted to be.” I applied to the university’s education school, studied for and took the LSAT, and even researched culinary schools. All along I wondered, when is my “Ah ha!” moment going to come? I told myself that I had to figure it out by my senior year. It didn’t take long to realize that the way I was going about my search was pretty exhausting and wasn’t giving me the insight I had hoped. I also realized that by talking to people about my interests and learning from others, I could gather a whole lot more information that helped me make decisions (aka networking).
By graduation I hadn’t exactly found my calling, but I knew what I wanted to do for the next year and that was good enough for me, and felt great. I left the country! Through the BUNAC program (http://www.bunac.org/), I secured a six-month work visa in the UK. Before leaving for that adventure, I was able to secure a position working for an investment firm in London. Networking enabled me to connect with an alum who owned that company. I was hired, psychology major and all. Those six months were fantastic. When my work visa expired there, I moved to Galway, Ireland so that I could continue to live and work abroad. I found a job as a server in a restaurant and lived above a pub.
I didn’t make much of a salary that year abroad, but I gained unique experience that I feel paved the way for me in my future endeavors. I was also better prepared to explore my interests and more open-minded about what those might be.
Not knowing what to do next is ok, even though it doesn’t always feel so great. Accept the challenge of finding answers and use that as motivation to explore. Talk to others, share your interests, and connect with the Penn network. I encourage you to also keep an open mind about what you find. What interests you along the way may be unexpected. Take it from an almost doctor turned lawyer, who wanted to be a nurse, and then considered teaching as well as becoming a professional chef, that clarity will come.