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Why It's Okay Not To Know What You Want To Do For The Rest Of Your Life

One commonality amongst most of us 20-somethings is that we have no idea what we want to do for the rest of our lives — not the damnedest clue. If you asked 10 of us what we aspire to be, eight of us would probably start rambling nonsense, overwhelming the questioner with more information than one can reasonably consume and digest in a short span of time.

This will produce an answer along the lines of “it's okay, this is the time to experiment and find out what it is you love to do” — i.e.: an answer that is not helpful.

The lack of a clear endgame, and thus, no foreseeable path to get to a destination we can even identify is simultaneously one the scariest and most frustrating experiences one can have. And for those of us who don't believe that 30 is the new 20, it freaks us out even more. I know this because the six months following my graduation, I was plagued by an unprecedented insecurity due to this very uncertainty that sparked feelings of fear, isolation and restlessness.

After indulging in some much needed time to calm the f*ck down, I decided to put things into perspective and realized that I should find a way to embrace this uncertainty. Since making this decision, several things have come to my attention as to why indecision creates such angst among Millennials. Check them out and learn how to address them:

1. Having friends who already have clear career goals or are studying to qualify for a specific profession.

Did you know that New York professionals are expected to change careers three times in their lives?

These numbers support the notion that even if you know what you want to do now, chances are, you won't be doing it for the rest of your life. So, instead of striving for some nonexistent permanence, familiarize yourself with the idea of being someone who evolves.

Also, just because some people study for a specific profession doesn't mean they possess occupational certainty. Medical and law students have to choose an area in which to specialize and there's no guarantee that once they make a choice, it will be permanent. A 2012 Medscape survey of 24,000 US doctors showed that when asked what they'd do if they could have a do-over, only 51 percent would practice medicine again and of those, only 42 percent would choose the same specialty.

No matter what your job is, the desire for change is nearly inevitable — I know a lawyer who branched out and became an MLM salesman. If a researcher from Columbia University's child psychiatry department quit his job to become a stand-up comedian, we can certainly afford some wiggle room to figure our sh*t out.


2. We've been institutionalized by our 20+ years of education to conform to structure, deadlines and authority.

“These walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That's institutionalized.” – “The Shawshank Redemption”

Schools are often likened to prison due to the enforcement of strict rules. It is a totalitarian hierarchy in which students are prisoners, teachers are guards and principals are wardens. I, for one, am more than familiar with these parallels. One day at the end of my high school biology class, my teacher instructed us to huddle around a model that demonstrated the homeostatic process.

The model sat on a table so I decided to take a seat next to it because well, I had been in school for seven hours and I wanted a seat. Do I HAVE to explain myself? I certainly didn't think so, but boy, my teacher did. She proceeded to tell me to do 20 jumping jacks. Yes, I was told to do 20 jumping jacks for sitting in a f*cking chair. And the worst part was, I actually did it.

As you already know, when we move up the food chain from primary school to high school to college, we love the increasing autonomy we are afforded, but, we also fail to notice that we have a very engrained inclination to react to systems and confines. We fear deadlines, respect authority (most of the time) and crave to be told what to do.

Just like Brooks from “The Shawshank Redemption,” we are institutionalized. And like Brooks, as soon as we leave our respective institutions, we feel confused, lost and end up even missing what we vowed to hate forever. But unlike Brooks, we do not want to kill ourselves and live with the uncertainty so undoubtedly, we feel so frustrated.

As our responsibilities pile up, we must become accustomed to having our own thoughts and motivating ourselves, because without structure telling us what to do, we'll only do as well as we demand from ourselves.


3. The previous generations, who believes Generation-Y to be lazy and entitled and therefore, incompetent, makes us feel like we need to explicitly prove our elders, parents and society wrong.

Many of our parents grew up in a time of political and social instability. I don't declare that we aren't lazy or entitled, as many of the luxuries we have the privilege to experience resulted from our parents' struggles. Our parents and grandparents earnestly worked hard and since many of us don't emulate their work ethic, we are seen as lazy and entitled.

But, times are different now. We are in the age of ideas — from social networking to political movements to business models — and it's about more than sheer labor.

Don't take these claims to heart (unless you really are lazy and entitled) because there is a generation gap, which means elder people may not understand we simply do things differently now. Just keep your head up, work hard, ask questions, read often, meet new people, listen more and withhold doubt that the first of many careers will end up finding you.

Photo credit: Theo Gosselin

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Shirley Ko

Contributor

Shirley is a contributing writer based in Switzerland. She graduated from UBC in 2013 with a degree in political science and is currently completing her MBA degree. There's nothing that Shirley loves more than good wine and good company, except ...
Shirley is a contributing writer based in Switzerland. She graduated from UBC in 2013 with a degree in political science and is currently completing her MBA degree. There's nothing that Shirley loves more than good wine and good company, except ...

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