OPINION: It’s okay not to have everything figured out!

Price Wilborn, Commentary writer

When I was in high school, I felt this enormous pressure to have my life figured out.

My freshman year, we had to choose a “career pathway.” This pathway was required in order to graduate. It was a chance for high school students like myself to learn more about a given field or industry. While I chose business, I could have done pathways in engineering, culinary arts, teaching, construction and more.

This was coupled with the constant questions about my future. I was asked who knows how many times what I wanted to major in when I went to college and what I wanted to do after college. My answer was always the same: “I want to major in political science, but I have no idea what I want to do with it.” 

Thinking about the future has always scared me, but it did even more so when I was making the transition from high school to college. I was overwhelmingly unprepared for how behind I felt when I first got to the Hill.

As a member of the Mahurin Honors College, I attended the Honors First-Year Orientation Retreat, or H4. While I was at H4, I found several hundred like-minded individuals, but I was taken aback about how many of them seemed to have their life planned out. This continued when I attended MASTER Plan the following week and well into my first semester.

As a political science major, I am required to have at least a minor or a second major. I did not declare my second and third majors until two months ago. Until then, there was a constant fear that I was behind. I was afraid that while all these people around me knew what internships and competitive scholarships they were going to apply for, or what law school they wanted to go to, or what they wanted to get involved in on campus, I was going to be behind everyone else. I want to be able to succeed in life, and I felt like I was already failing.

It took me getting settled in and getting involved here at WKU that I began to realize that I was not behind. Many college students at WKU and across the nation have no idea what they are doing, either.

In an email, Karl Laves told me that one way to relieve some of the pressure of feeling behind or feeling like you need to have your future planned out is to “listen to what everyone tells you but don’t believe a word of it until you see that it is true.” He went on to say, “you don’t have to have the whole thing planned out right now. You just have to know the next few years.”

According to a 2014 report by the US Department of Education, about 30% of undergraduates change their major at least once at some point in their career. A 2020 report from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles found that 7% of students across the nation go into college with undecided majors. The Center for Education Consumer Insights reports that looking back, 12% of college graduates would change their degree and 36% would change their field of study.

If you don’t have your future planned out, it’s okay! You’re not alone.

I found that getting involved with groups on campus and exploring my interests and values deeper helped me to make decisions about my future. While I still don’t know what I’m doing after college, I decided to triple major in political science, history, and legal studies. I spent a lot of time thinking about myself and the person I wanted to be. My values led me in this direction, whatever that direction ends up being.

I would also encourage everyone to take time to find internships, study abroad or other opportunities that can really help you explore you. I had an internship this summer, and I absolutely loved it. I got to do a bunch of cool things that I really enjoyed and that I was interested in.

I am a firm believer in doing something that interests you. I cannot imagine spending my life doing something that I get no joy out of doing. That is why I’ve taken time in college to explore some things.

My dad likes to say that this is the time in my life where I have “the most freedom and the least responsibility” I will ever have. I have found this to be very true. My time here at WKU is time for me to find myself and learn what it is that I want to spend my life doing.

Laves reflected this, saying “most don’t know ten years after college [what they want to do]. But they do know what they want to do AT ANY PARTICULAR POINT IN TIME……and that is what counts. It is a lifelong process.  And there are several occupations that anyone of us could like…..you can’t really say that one would make you the happiest; all you know is that you would like doing anyone of them.  And that is good enough.”

If you came into college on a career path that was not decided by you, Laves says that you must remember that “other people are pressuring you because they care but they don’t know better or because they are selfish or naïve.  If they really care, they will be okay with you making your own choice.  Once they see you are happy, they won’t worry”

Take time to find yourself and to discover your passions and your interests. You may never have this time again.

If you feel behind or are feeling this pressure, remember that you are enough. You are an amazing human being that will do amazing things. Whatever you do, you are going to do great at it.

Commentary writer Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.