Graduation Fears

by Angela (Oh She Glows) on January 28, 2011


Earlier this week, I met with two inspiring women who work at my undergraduate university- the University of Guelph. They came across my blog and bakery and were interested in hearing my story and telling me about a project they are currently working on. We chatted a lot about making the career transition after graduation and finding something you enjoy. If you have read my ‘A Year Can Change A Lot’ series, you know that the topic of career enjoyment is a huge passion of mine, so I was quite excited to share my ideas and hear what they had to say.

One of the issues we discussed is that so many graduates and students are unsure what career will make them happy. I used to be one of them. I remember struggling with what I wanted to do and I felt like if I made the wrong decision my entire life would be ruined. Thankfully, that was not true, although there were some difficult times.

I personally feel that the system did not work for me. I was just 18 when I started university and I really had no idea what I wanted to do, let alone what career would make me happy. I felt so much pressure not to screw it all up. I’m all for planning and aspiring to achieve great things, but sometimes I feel like these decisions are rushed and just thrown at us when we are young. Looking back I wished that I had taken a year in between my highschool and undergrad degrees to figure things out and give myself more time. But all my other friends were going to university too, and I didn’t want to be left behind.

Then comes graduation, which is a happy time, however it can also be a time of great unease. I was excited to get my Master’s degree, but no one told me about the loss of identity that came with it. My student identity that I carried with me for almost my entire life was now over, at least in the physical sense. After graduating, I was just supposed to magically have a successful career. This made me anxious.

I would always look at my friends and think they were so lucky because they seemed to be able to find the perfect job almost instantly. The truth is, many students and graduates do struggle, but not many people talk about it. I realize this now because I have received countless emails from readers who have shared their own stories with me. I was blown away by how many of you have struggled with the same things that I did.

The job market is tough. Competition is stiff. Student loans add to the stress and there seems to be an expectation to immediately find our Dream Job after graduation. I was so scared about not being able to find a job with an undergraduate degree in Psychology, I made it my mission to get into grad school. I worked my butt off to be sure that I would have a competitive application to the grad schools I wanted to go to. When I did get accepted into one of my schools of choice I was thrilled, but there was a tiny voice inside of me that said, ‘This might not be the right fit for you…’

I ignored the voice because I told myself I had no other option. While I wasn’t able to research the area that I was passionate about, I just figured I would learn to love it somehow.

During this time, I never really stopped to think about what I really wanted, only that I was now on my way to a bigger paycheck at the end. Lower down on my list was job satisfaction.  I grew up with the idea that you never truly love your day job- you just pay the bills and put your time in and you try to enjoy your weekends. I also watched for many years as my parents struggled with finding happiness in their own careers. Even though my parents always, always, always encouraged me to do what made me happy, the thought of actually doing this was a foreign concept to me. I often swept these thoughts under the rug while taking graduate exams, working to pay the bills, and writing a thesis. Life was busy and I just went through the motions of what I thought I was supposed to do.

I never thought that I could do something entirely different than what I went to school for, but that is exactly what I ended up doing. What we do with our lives does not have to be decided when we are 17 or 19 or even when we are 50. Just because we have a degree in the sciences does not mean that one day we can’t open up our own art studio. We also shouldn’t have to stick with the same career our entire lives.

So you are now 48 and you want to go back to school and become a Registered Dietitian? I say all the power to you. I used to have a lady in one of my courses who was over 75 years old and she was such an inspiration to me because she knew that Life should be a life long learning experience.

I guess we shouldn’t lose our student identity after all.

I didn’t know what would make me happy until I tried it out. Often, what we learn from a textbook and what we learn in the real world are often completely different experiences.

I believe:

You are not a failure for not knowing what you want to do with your life.

You are not a failure for changing your mind. Once, or twice, or eighteen times.

You are not a failure for getting your PhD and deciding that this is not what you want in life (I get these emails all the time).

You are not a failure for not yet finding your ‘dream job’.

You are not a failure. Period.

Here are some success quotes that I enjoy:

I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.
~Jonathan Winters

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.
~Bill Cosby

I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate.
~George Burns

I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.
~Michael Jordan

I’d love your thoughts on some of these questions- Did you (or do you) struggle with choosing what to study in school? Do you feel pressure to figure out what it is you want to do for a career or finding a way to make it a reality? Did you grow up with parents who were happy with their careers? Have you ever made a career change?


PS- For my ‘A Year Can Change A Lot’ series, see these posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10 (1 year later)

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