At the tender age of 18 or 19, many of us are shipped off to college and expected to make plans that will “set us up” for the rest of our lives. The typical road map that we’re given tells us that we should go to college, intern at as many Fortune 500 companies as humanly possible, land a job right after graduation, and climb to the top of the corporate ladder by age 25. While that sounds lovely, it almost never happens—and many fairly recent grads like me are living proof of that.
Coming into college, we’re continuously faced with this question, So where do you see yourself in x amount of years? We barely know what our next meal will be, let alone when we’ll be able to get a full eight hours of sleep instead of pulling an all-nighter. How can we be expected to make decisions that will shape the next five to ten years of our lives? It’s actually pretty ridiculous to assume teenagers are capable of this kind of planning when they are just leaving the nest.
I was lucky enough to study something I was passionate about in college. Unlike the majority of my peers, I didn’t battle with parents who pushed me into a field that I had absolutely no interest in. I also didn’t have that ongoing inner struggle that resulted in me changing my major a million times until I discovered what I was passionate about. I was set on marketing, so that was the major I pursued without ever turning back.
Now post-grad, I still have yet to find my dream marketing job. I spent my first year out of college beating myself up because I wasn’t on track to becoming a high-ranking marketing executive. Then I realized that I can still use my passion and the skills I learned from my major in various areas of my life.
I can still make my degree work for me regardless of my current career, and that has helped me cope with the initial disappointment and frustration.
In fact, not being able to use my degree in a marketing position has opened me up to new experiences—some that I admittedly didn’t enjoy, but others that have helped me discover interests that I never knew I had. Particularly, I’ve realized that I am passionate about writing and creating digital content for social media. Those are things that I now do on a freelance basis while I wait until I land the job of “my dreams.” Since I’ve been able to make peace with—and find the benefits of—not using my education in the traditional way I’d imagined, here’s a few things to remember if you’re bummed about not using your degree after graduation:
When you make plans, the universe laughs.
You can etch the life that you imagine for yourself in stone, but at the end of the day, life happens. Just go with the flow of whatever obstacles or detours interrupt your journey, and stop being so wrapped up in plans. Ultimately, they will cause you nothing but stress and anxiety. Trust me.
You are not alone in your struggle.
Off the top of my head, I can name maybe all of two people whose lives stuck to the script they made for themselves at 18. At least in my experience, the fact of the matter is that, right after college, you’re probably not going to wind up in the exact field related to your degree. Your outlook on the situation—either you’ll work with the opportunities in front of you or remain stagnant—will determine whether this will be a learning period in your life or just one big struggle.
A piece of paper (no matter how expensive it may have been) does not define who you will be for the rest of your life.
People can be so wrapped up in job titles that they let their titles and credentials define who they are. Meanwhile, they’re losing the parts of themselves that have nothing to do with their careers. You are not just a title or a degree. You are more than a job. You’re a person who is capable of doing anything you put your mind and energy into, no matter the circumstance.
Celebrate transferable skills.
You have to make your degree work for you. If you find yourself in a position at work that isn’t totally related to your desired field, see how you can build valuable skills that you can use sometime down the line for when you do get that dream job. If you want to be a professional writer but that hasn’t happened for you yet, maybe you can apply to a job that lets you teach writing in an after school program. Even though it’s not the glamorous editorial job you’d envisioned for yourself during your college classes, it’s strengthening skills that you’ll need to pursue your dream.
I’m currently a teaching artist for NYC public school students, where I teach a journalism elective. Is it my dream gig? No. However, I am applying and developing marketable skills that I know for certain will work in my favor when I apply to positions more relevant to my longterm goals.
Be open to opportunities that are presented to you, even if they’re not related to your college major. Don’t miss out on new things you could enjoy because you’re too hung up on nonexistent job openings in “your field.” Why even think about limiting yourself? Not using your degree after college in the way you planned is really not the end of the world. And it’s nothing to feel ashamed of, either. Put yourself out there and jump at experiences that come your way, and in the end, you’ll reap the benefits.