Carolyn Hax is away. In her absence, we are offering readers’ favorites from her archive.
DEAR CAROLYN: I’ve spent most of my life working toward a certain career. Now, in my senior year of college, with acceptance to my grad school of choice and employment for when I graduate, I’m thinking about going a very different route.
With grad school, I’m basically locked in for 15 years. If I don’t take this offer now, it’s unlikely I'll get it again.
Plus, everyone knows! That shouldn’t matter, but I’m afraid of disappointing those around me, and myself. Any words of wisdom?
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DEAR SHIFT: It might be time for a year or three off. As in, off a defined path – which can be anything from wage work in a resort area to the Peace Corps to interning for a pet cause or whatever your imagination and finances permit.
Some schools would rather have students defer enrollment and come back fully committed than enter right away only to burn out, so see if that’s possible. Visit your school’s career counseling office, too. Find room to breathe. You made it to adulthood without seriously challenging a child’s notion of who you are. I’m plainly biased, but I believe the decisions you make after you try on a few different kinds of lives are better than the ones you make from a linear path.
FOR SHIFT: At 12, I wanted to be a journalist. I spent the next 10 years working toward that goal – only to discover my senior year that I wasn’t so sure. I felt it was too late to back out and had a job lined up, so I just went with it … and a year later, I was completely burned out. It had been the wrong choice, but I’d been too stubborn to admit it.
I’m now doing something completely different, though luckily my education wasn’t a total waste. I also determined that I’m not a “career” person. I’m a job person who pursues a wide variety of hobbies in her free time and this lifestyle is so much more my speed.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Thanks for this.
It’s also possible that life is longer than we expect. Maybe journalism (BEG ITAL)was(END ITAL) right for you – for a decade. And now working to live versus living to work is right for you. And maybe a decade hence, a “career” will call to you just as journalism once did. And you'll decide you’re fine with replacing hobby time with specialized training, because you have the life experience and the resulting self-knowledge to trust this impulse.
Point being, some lives are less like a novel and more like a short-story anthology, and that’s perfectly valid – as long as you follow through on your emotional commitments, like sticking around to raise your kids.
RE: SHIFT: I don’t disagree with you, Carolyn, just want to play devil’s advocate: Post-recession, a year (or 10) of Peace Corps/bartending/being generally underemployed and underpaid is forced upon many of us. Not to say that grad school is right for this person, but be realistic about the actual alternatives.
DEAR ANONYMOUS2: Fair enough. Another post-recession effect, though, is that the handcuffs of a defined path are staying on (and chafing) longer, too. Mid-career do-overs are not for the faint of savings, especially if grad-school debt outlasts the career it launched.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax.