Jen Juneau
September 09, 2015 7:24 am

I’m not a risk-taker. Never have been. To this day, I have to consciously decide to take risks when they’re presented to me, because I don’t go out and seek them. Taking a different route through the grocery store usually gives me the adrenaline rush I need for the week.

And while this has kept me grounded and safe for most of my life, it has also been a little bit of a nuisance. I’m better now than I used to be, but when I started college, I was a very in-the-lines person. Sometimes I wonder, if I’d known how my career would be now, I would’ve navigated my college life – particularly, my choice of major – differently.

But what I do know is that, at 30, I have seen what the college major I chose has done for the rest of my life, and I know what I had to do to get here. And though the road has been bumpy and there are some things I’d change, I have some advice to offer those just starting their college careers.

Consider all your goals – not just the career ones

It’s important to remember that your career doesn’t define you; sometimes it’s easy to forget this in a world where social media is telling you that you need to do what you love for a job or else you’re a failure, which just isn’t true. Sure, it’s important to be happy with something you’re spending 40 or more hours a week doing, but does it really have to be the MOST exciting thing ever?

It’s good to think about everything you want in life, because the career you want may not be enough to balance it out. Do you want to travel the world, live in a big house, etc. while you’re young? A teacher’s salary may not allow you to do that at first. But if being a teacher is your dream, it may be worth the trade-off of a potentially smaller starting salary. Weighing all your options is never a bad thing.

Remember that money isn’t everything

In the opposite vein, remember that happiness is not always directly proportional to the amount of money you make. I made the mistake of starting my college career in computer science because I knew it had the potential to bring me a big paycheck – and this was my biggest motivator. Luckily I switched majors in time to pursue something more related to what I actually want to do (and eventually realized all my greatest memories from childhood had nothing to do with money), but today I’m working my butt off to break more into an area of writing and editing that is competitive, and that I sometimes wish I’d spent more of my twenties exploring.

If you want something badly enough, the money will come, so don’t sacrifice what you truly want for a quick paycheck. In my case, that quick paycheck allowed me to travel some and reach other goals and deep down I know my path was the right one for me personally, given my other aspirations. But really think about what you want out of life, and remember that money does NOT equal happiness.

You are allowed to change your mind

When you start college, your entire life is changing! What you want at 18 will most likely change drastically by the time you’re 25, or even 21. I know it did in my case – and what I wanted between 25 and 30 changed, too. Not as drastically, but nevertheless, the change was there. So give yourself a break. If you decide at 20 that you don’t want to be an English-literature professor anymore and instead want to pursue neurobiology, go for it! College is absolutely the time to explore all your options, both academically and otherwise. Life is too short to settle, especially when you’re young.

The biggest ingredient to success is passion

So many people think that taking a road toward something artistic or otherwise outside the sciences is an impractical decision. I used to feel this way too, and never would’ve dreamed of majoring in something like English literature or journalism because they were popular fields that would’ve been challenging to make a career out of in a world where technological jobs were more in demand.

Guess what? I was totally wrong. Sure, a career in science is going to pay the bills a lot of the time. But if you’re truly passionate about something related to art, writing, etc., you can absolutely make a career out of it. You do have to really want it – maybe more than you’ve ever wanted anything else – and network your butt off sometimes or hope for a break, but it can make you a very happy living. So don’t sacrifice something you’re passionate about for a paycheck. Find the balance that works for you, but don’t let anyone tell you an artistic major won’t get you anywhere. If you want it to badly enough, it will.

Your happiness is the most important thing

If you let them, the people around you will tell you what will make you happy. And even though they mean well, they truly have no idea. The only person who knows this answer (or, more commonly, these answers) at the end of the day is you. So before choosing your major, the first question you should ask yourself is, “Will this make me happy?” If the class descriptions sound like a snooze fest, move on to the next. Life has a way of working itself out, and since we only get one life to live, we should make it the happiest we possibly can. Because our happiest selves are the best ones to give to the rest of the world.

(Image via CW)