The first semester of my senior year of college I found a waitressing job at a pizza place downtown called Old Chicago. On the weekends it lights up like a circus of people cycling in and out, trying to catch a football game and test every drink on our menu. One Sunday night, it was particularly hellish, but I’d choose work over class any day. School isn’t for everyone, I thought for the hundredth time. Working full-time didn’t sound so bad to me. Best of all, it didn’t involve sitting at a desk all day.
Around 11 p.m., the dining room was packed and a line snaked out the door. In the middle of taking an order of artichoke dip up the winding stairs in the middle of the dining room, my not-so-non-slip shoes slid across the marble step. The dip crashed to the floor. The glass bowl shattered, and most of the green dip found its way onto my shirt.
In that moment, finding a future that didn’t involve mopping artichoke dip off the floor and my own shoes felt like the most important thing. If I couldn’t figure out a major right away I at least wanted to find a direction.
Why do so many young adults have this problem? I believe it’s because we think we have all the time in the world to get everything figured out. As a result, we don’t actually put time or effort into considering our future or interests. As a student I can honestly say that my biggest struggle has been finding a major that inspires. My previous choices have only made the future look dull and unsatisfying.
Young adults commonly ask themselves what they’re even good at. Why don’t we spend more time exploring our talents and interests? The biggest thing I learned from college is what I don’t want to do. I had no idea what to do with my life but I did know that I didn’t want to be a graphic designer, an elementary school teacher or a nurse.
But I don’t know what to do with my life. You’ll find those people who seem to have it figured out early and easily. They follow that path until they reach that goal. But for the indecisive ones like me, it feels more complicated. Pre-nursing, elementary education, graphic design or communications? Being an indecisive person doubles as one of the worst qualities for an adult, especially when it involves a career. Indecisiveness in college also comes with a sense of urgency that raises anxiety levels even more.
So, every college student needs to keep in mind that giving ourselves more time doesn’t yield results. We don’t decide what we want to do by taking time to do nothing. A number of my friends decided to take a year off to just work because they didn’t know what they wanted to “do” yet. But their work was like my waitressing job—something to make me money quickly while teaching me nothing about my interests or potential career options.
I recently read the book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay. This serves as one of the most important things I’ll ever read, mainly because it laid out every concern I’ve ever had about college while dismissing my fear of being the only one to ever feel lost in their twenties. This blew me away. I felt as if I’d read a book about myself that even included my own personal thoughts and anxieties.
Meg Jay blew me away with her insights. Our misconceptions about what how we should spend these years put our futures in jeopardy. Specifically, Jay emphasized three things in particular that spoke to me.
First, people our age should not focus too much on identity crises. We should concern ourselves more with “identity capital.” I highlighted and underlined this term because it felt like gold. How do we gain identity capital? By spending our time doing things that “add value to who we are.” She refers to them as investments because it’s effort being put into our potential futures. In other words? Invest in yourself.
Second, forget the urban tribe. We miss out on a whole world when we limit ourselves to our small circle of friends. Jay stressed that staying within our same group doesn’t lead to new opportunities or connections. People outside the circle are referred to as essential “weak ties,” because they’re the friends of friends that could be our next job offer or life changer.
Third, be intentional. Don’t procrastinate and sleepwalk through the most crucial years because society tells us we have time to waste. Don’t choose a partner or job because it’s the easy thing or because you can’t seem to find another viable option. Make it happen.
Find those weak ties, build identity capital and “consciously choose who and what you want.” Every 20-something should read this book. If anything, it serves as a reminder that we need to take time to explore now, and we should explore intentionally. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves left covered in artichoke dip. And no one wants that.