"What Do I Want to Do With My Life?" - Do We Ever Really Know?

From a young age, we are asked the question, “What do you want to be when you are older?” and it was so much easier to come up with an answer to that loaded question. It was easier because the sky was the limit, and the grown-ups smiled at us when we recited back, “I want to be a firefighter!” “I want to be a professional baseball player!” “I want to become a lawyer!” Fast forward to high school graduation, and those same grown-ups are now asking that same question, except this time, your answer needs to be good enough for them, and suddenly, you need a plan for your life.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 3.1 million youth age 16 to 24 who graduated from high school in 2016, about 2.2 million (69.7 percent) were enrolled to attend college in the 2017 school year. Although this source does not give you a definite number of students who go onto college, it is a good start, as well as, a hard figure for you to consider when you think about the amount of those kids that, more than likely, have no idea the path they will take in college.

How many students actually know what they see themselves doing for the rest of their lives? I can’t provide that information for you, but I am willing to bet that this number would be much higher than the number of students who go into college knowing exactly who they are, and who they want to become. For the most part, students go on to college because that is what we are told we are supposed to do. It is just, “a part of life,” and once it arrives, we are just supposed to know all the answers? We are pressured to make a big life decision, that what? We are just supposed to follow until we retire? Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. As we grow as individuals, what we once valued when we were 18 and entering college, are just simply not the same values we have when we are 22, fresh out of college, and entering the work force.

What about the students that won’t attend college? According to the Center for Public Education, of those who graduate from high school, 21% of those students won’t be enrolled in college by age 20. By age 26, that percentage does drop down to 12%. A lot of these students either cannot afford the high cost of a higher education, or they decided that further schooling was not beneficial for them.

For me, college was all about self-discovery, and truly learning who I was. I only chose my degree because it was ‘trending’ at the time when I decided to research, “Best Degrees to Graduate With.” It certainly wasn’t my passion, and it certainly isn’t what I would choose given the opportunity to do it all over again. Don’t get me wrong, I chose a good degree that would always guarantee me job security, but what is more important? Choosing a degree that everyone else wants you to choose because it is safe? Or choosing one that falls in line with your passions, but may be a little riskier of a choice? What if you aren’t sure which of those two categories you even fall into? This is a common problem for students nowadays, and it is getting harder and harder to decide which path to walk down.

I have always been envious of those who seem to know exactly where they are headed, and what they need to do to get there. If you are anything like me, you have dabbled in many things, and tried new ventures, just to come back to the original, hard hitting question, “What do I want to do with my life?” I just hit my three-year mark of being out of college, and I am still asking myself the same question. Nowadays, I have started to ask myself, “Do we ever truly know?”

As everything around us starts to get more advanced, and job opportunities begin to increase our choices, I am not too convinced that this is going to make things any easier for students who are continually entering the work force. Maybe the problem is that we have too many options? As the times change, and people start to learn that they can make a living doing what they love, more and more people are starting to ask themselves, did I make the wrong career choice?  People of all ages are now beginning to question if they should quit their careers and follow their passions.

This is a good and bad thing.

Some people are not weighing out the pros and cons before making these kinds of decisions. If you have been in a career for over 5-10 years, is it necessarily in your best interest to put your two weeks’ notice in, and open that little bakery you have always wanted to open? Depends on who you ask, and I am by no means saying that you can’t be successful going down that route, but I think it is important to point out that 20% of small businesses fail in their first year, and 50% of small businesses will fail by the end of their fifth year. These are big risks to be taking, especially when we are talking about the rest of our lives, and the ways in which we make money to support ourselves for all that time.

“What Do I Want to Do with My Life?” is a question that we need to be asking ourselves as much as we can, unless of course you are one of the lucky ones who got it right the first time you were asked. I believe that it’s important to force ourselves out of our comfort zones, have conversations with various people, challenge our own beliefs, and ultimately, figure out what we are meant to be doing. It is very easy to get complacent in our lives, in our careers, and our everyday routines. I for one, may not know what I want to do with the rest of my life, but I make it a priority to figure out the things that I know I don’t. Maybe, instead of asking the question, “What Do I Want to Do with My Life?”, we should start asking ourselves, “What Do I Want Out of this Life?” Maybe then, we will be able to figure out which path to take.


Thank you for reading. I appreciate you.

-Megan Lawrence