The most important decision of your life: picking your major
Picking a major can be challenging and a little bit scary, because so much depends on this, right? This major will determine your GPA, your career trajectory, your future, your whole life and happiness… AH, SO MUCH PRESSURE – this one decision will determine your whole life!!!
Ok, calm down. Let’s take a second, take a breath. I might have some advice to help you.
This may sound a bit controversial, but hear me out… What if I told you that your major really isn’t that important? That it might not be the determining factor of whether you have success in life. No seriously, hear me out, I have some good reasoning for saying this!
Firstly, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Ok, leave the cats alone, what I mean here is: there is more than one way to any job. I challenge you to spend just 5 minutes on LinkedIn looking up people with a job you could be interested in. I can pretty much guarantee that you will discover there are many pathways to the same destination. I will accept here that if you look up a tax accountant, a vast majority will have studied an undergraduate accounting degree. However, I would bet there are at least a few that studied something else, such as a geology then later did a masters or a conversion course to move across to a career in accounting. If you open 10 profiles of people doing the same job, you will inevitably find that there is not one set career path or major to achieve any career goal.
Secondly, you will very likely change your mind about what you want to do.
Let’s go back to when you were 5 years old and your teacher asked you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” What did you say? Actually stop and try to remember.
I wanted to be a ballerina. Did I become a ballerina? No, I did not. By the time I was 8 I was no longer interested in ballet, it hurt my feet and I really wasn’t all that talented. My interests changed. By the time I was 8 I wanted to be a policewoman, then by 12 a doctor, then by 16 a zoologist, and on and on. And, I was not the most indecisive person on the planet. This is, actually, a normal process. At 5 or 8 or even 12, you cannot know enough about the world or yourself to be able to pick one of the 500,000 different jobs out there and “know” that it is the job for you, forever.
Ok, what am I trying to say here?
I am saying that right now, do you really think there is nothing new for you to learn about yourself or the world? Do you really feel that what you want to be today (or this year) might not change again throughout your life? Most likely you will change your mind and your career at least a few times throughout your life. And you don’t know what the future will bring, so you can’t factor these future careers into your current decision- because you just don’t know what they will be. All you can consider is your current situation.
And the final reason that maybe your major selection is not the be all and end all, is about what actually creates career success and happiness.
Ultimately, if you enjoy your job and the work you do, then you will be more motivated, achieve greater things, and be happier, correct? But, how do you ensure you enjoy your career? A good idea is doing something you are naturally good at. Let’s go back to when I was 5 and thought I wanted to be a ballerina. I very much could have stuck with that idea and worked hard at it for years and years. However, working hard at something I was not talented at (keep in mind I can barely touch my toes) could have led to me being a ballerina – but working hard at something you are not good at is like paddling against the stream- it would have been harder that it needed to be! If I had channeled all that hard work and dedication to something I was good at, I most likely would have been more successful.
And luckily, for me, this is what I did. As I got older I realised I was altruistic, highly organised and loved to be creative. So, I picked my major and my jobs that aligned with who I am and what I am good at. This led to a degree I quite enjoyed and so far 4 different careers that have all aligned with my natural strengths of creativity, organisation, and altruism. I have continued to develop and learn about myself and the world, and I would say I have been pretty happy and successful.
So, maybe, just maybe, picking a major will not be the most important decision of your life. But you still have to pick one, so why not focus on what you know about yourself and consider not just your interests (because we have established that these change), but your strengths and natural talents- because these are more likely to be stable throughout your life. If you pick your major this way, then it will more likely lead to careers that you are also talented at.
Look, you don’t have to take my advice, you can pick a specific major or job and work hard every day to get achieve it, no matter if it is what you are naturally good at. But please remember even though you only get one life, you will likely have more than one career, and your current major will not be the only factor that determines what they will be.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash
By Nicole Papworth
Nicole Papworth is a career coach with almost 10 years’ experience working with students and graduates starting out their careers. She spent time in large corporate banks, consulting and accounting companies studying who they hired and why. Nicole now uses this knowledge to help UTS students figure out their career ambitions and start achieving them.