As a junior who came into Brown thinking she had it all figured out, I’m more confused about what I want to do with my life now than I was as a bright-eyed freshman. In high school the choices seemed black-and-white: I imagined I’d spend my undergraduate years preparing for either law, medical or business school. No matter how much I procrastinated, there had to be enough time. Don’t get me wrong, I have two years to go, but I thought I would know by now. I imagined I’d walk into a lecture class second semester freshman year, a light would go off in my brain and I’d scribble my dream profession on the cover of my notebook.
I wouldn’t be writing this article if that had happened. I now realize that juniors, however close we may be to walking out of the Van Wickle Gates, don’t need to have their lives figured out by the time they turn 21. There is value in continued exploration, and instead of giving into the pressure of mapping out a detailed life plan in your early 20s — like many Brown students feel compelled to do — we should be using our time in college to figure out our passions and skills. More often than not, the profession you’ve been trying to find amidst a sea of confusion will find you as you experiment with different opportunities during and after college.
But I’ve come to realize that you don’t have to know your exact career path right out of the gate, as long as you use your time in college to meaningfully self-reflect. Pursuing internships are the obvious answer when it comes to making up your mind: real-life, real-time experience in a profession that you might be interested in. That’s how I realized law wasn’t for me (a girl can change her mind, though). It turns out a law office simply doesn’t work the way you would imagine it would based on a Suits episode. Without my summer job at a law firm, I never would’ve known the difference.
At Brown, though, we too easily fall into the trap of pursuing internships that look glitzy and glamorous on a resume, instead of using them as tools of self-discovery. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met at investment banking info sessions who simply didn’t want to be there — but were there anyway, looking for a resume booster to catch a future employer’s eye. Unfortunately, this isn’t the way to find the job or the career that’s best for you. This isn’t how you’re going to make the best use of your skills or truly discover your passions. Though for some it’s hard to resist the allure of a brand name, blindly and reflexively pursuing a career for the prestige ultimately distracts you from understanding what you really want to do with your life. That’s why we should seriously reevaluate how we use our summers and the priorities we set for ourselves in college. Even though internships can’t solve the career puzzle for you entirely, they can definitely find the corners if you use them right.
You may be thinking to yourself: Why are we even listening to you? I did say from the very beginning that I’m feeling confused. I wish I could spill secrets and cautionary tales from several years in the workforce, learning from my scholastic mistakes and finding a one-way ticket to a tailor-made career. But, as it turns out, we’re all in the same boat. And, at least for me, it feels good to know that I’m not sailing on my own. It can feel alienating to attend information sessions where everyone seems to know exactly what they want. As students, we ought to try to be more open about our insecurities and uncertainties. By being open with ourselves and with our peers, we might be able to avoid the hysteria surrounding the few, elite jobs that seem attractive — because of the sheer number of applicants — but do not guarantee any professional satisfaction. And we might better be able to use our liberal arts education in service of our own fulfillment and our own interests.
We’ve all had our share of awkward dinner encounters, with our relatives asking us, “So what do you want to do?” only to be met with our blank stares. At times, it may seem like you’re moving backwards, away from the narrow path you thought you wanted into a pool of possibility. Don’t be fooled. Nobody expects you to know exactly what you want from the minute you step out of your dorm into the real world. A quick conversation with most adults will lead you to the realization that many of their jobs today have nothing to do with their post-graduation offers. Limiting yourself to a particular career path in your early 20s often does just that. At the risk of sounding cliche, perhaps one of the most fulfilling journeys you embark upon as a 20-something is that of professional self-discovery. Don’t rob yourself of that experience by setting a graduation deadline for your future career.
Fabiana Vilsan ’19 can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and other op-eds to email@example.com.