Do you sometimes feel as if you only have one set of skills? That you’ve built your career on one path and now you can’t switch gears? Do you get talks from friends and family about picking a major, or a career, that can “go somewhere” and “turn into something?” I got the same talk, but it came from myself.
In college, I wanted to study everything. I entered school as a biology major, but switched to psychology, then international relations, and finally settled on English. I even considered a French minor!
I dropped biology because I didn’t want to compete against pre-med students in every class when I knew I didn’t want to go to medical school. I switched out of psychology because I couldn’t picture myself being a researcher or a psychologist. I decided against international relations because I didn’t want to work for a non-profit or non-governmental organization. I picked English, finally, after semesters of classes in other majors, because I loved reading and writing. However, I also knew I could use reading and writing in any career I wanted.
You know what all of those “because” statements have in common? I thought the major you picked would determine your entire life or could hurt your career potential. I thought I had to pick a path and stick to it, that it would be impossible to change my direction once the course was set. I thought I had to be practical and set a course I could stick to, instead of thinking about what invigorated me and enriched my entire college experience.
Three years of law school later, and I realized how wrong I was about everything. I spent law school studying criminal law, spent my summers getting hands-on experience, and finally interned at the Public Defender’s Office. It was there that I decided once and for all that criminal law was not for me. I liked the court appearances and building a case, but I didn’t want to work there, and I didn’t want to open my own firm.
What was I to do? I had spent all of my time and energy building up a resume that said I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney, but I wanted to practice civil litigation, an area in which I had no hands on experience. I lamented, groaned, moped, and then (with the help of some friends and the law school career counselor) I finally realized that all of my experiences had given me transferable skills.
I’d learned time management, taking charge of tasks, working independently, and how to interact with clients and co-workers professionally during my internships that could also apply to any other job. Qualities that an employer wants an employee to have, I had, and I got them through my experiences. I thought I would be “stuck” in one career path based on my major, or my work experience, but it turned out I would only be stuck if I couldn’t see how to market myself the right way.
The kinds of skills employers look for aren’t always based on what forms you know how to fill out or what software you can use. Above all else, they want to know you can succeed in the workplace. You can get those skills through any major, any course of study, if you’re looking to develop them. College is about preparing for the future, but it is meant to be enjoyed too.
Study what you love, what ignites your passions, what makes you want to do your reading! Alright, maybe that part can’t be helped. You won’t get those years back, so take advantage of all the opportunities available to you. Maybe you won’t switch majors as often as I did, but you also shouldn’t feel pigeonholed by your choices. You will be able to study what you want, and still have the career you want if you recognize the similarities in your past experiences, not the differences.