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Podcast Episode 009: "I've Given Up On My Dream Career. Where Do I Go From Here?"

Episode 009: “I’ve Given up on My Dream Career. Where Do I Go From Here?”

Today we answer a letter from Patreon Donor Julia, who feels lost after making a big change of direction in her life.

Today’s question

“I’m twenty-one years old and I was in college majoring in biology, but I was just miserable and had to leave. But all I ever wanted to do was science, and now I’m really struggling with what to do next. I was paying for classes as I went (as much as I could, anyway) so I only have one loan to pay off. But I just really don’t know what I want to do with my life. I’ve worked in retail and foodservice and I hated it. I’ve been applying to daycare centers because I like kids, but I haven’t heard back from any of them. Any advice you could give me on finding a direction would be very much appreciated.”

This question made our hearts heavy. We hate to see a twenty-one-year-old sounding so lost and resigned. Because twenty-one is so young! You’re an adult when you’re twenty-one, but like, it’s the toddler stage of adulthood. The world won’t always feel so intimidating and impenetrable.

Our Boomer parents would certainly tell her to fOlLoW hEr DrEaM, dAmN tHe CoNsEqUeNcEs. But obviously we have to bring a more nuanced answer than that.

Allow us to remind all of our young listeners that…

  • Cs are passing grades. They are enough. Let yourself step down off the hamster wheel of your own demanding expectations.
  • College curricula can be more challenging than the “real world” career you’re preparing you for.
  • Piggy and I graduated from college ten years ago, and in the last decade, the number of employers who have expressed a desire to know our letter grades in college is absolute zero—a thermodynamic state once thought to be merely theoretical! SCIENCE!
  • Some careers are challenging to pursue because they’re vanishingly rare and impossibly glamorous: professional video game player, A-list film actor, high-end vibrator tester, etc. But other careers are challenging to pursue because they require a lot of intelligence, persistence, and education: biologist, surgeon, high-end vibrator engineer. Shake the former, push the latter.
  • STEM fields will remain overwhelmingly male so long as women and nonbinary folks lack mentors and programs to help them through the doubt.
  • Sometimes you wanna quit because you know yourself, and you’ve made a mature and informed decision about what’s best for you. Other times you wanna quit because you’re scared of failure, or scared of success, or unsure how to move forward. You will spend a lot of your young adulthood learning to spot the difference between the two.

A huge thank-you to Julia—both for being our patron, and for asking such a vulnerable question. I know she isn’t the only young person struggling with this kind of confusion and angst. We hope our answer will help her, as well as others who find themselves in a similar situation.

And as always, thanks to ALL of our patrons! Without you, we would not exist. And boy do we love existing!

If you have a question burning in your mind, we are happy to answer it! Find out how at our Patreon page.

7 thoughts to “Episode 009: “I’ve Given up on My Dream Career. Where Do I Go From Here?””

  1. Biology is not a great degree unless you pursue a graduate degree, but even at that it’s not as bad as some other liberal arts degrees. At 21 she must be close to completing, degrees only take 4 years. I’d say finish that degree first.
    She needs a decent plan and at 21 it’s sad she hasn’t figured one out yet. I’m a boomer, following dreams is a sure path to poverty. Picking a career you have enough talent to master is the only high probability path to take. But still, if you are only a semester away, finish! Then get a job and figure out what you are good at that pays well and begin moving toward it.

    1. This (the first paragraph, not so much the second). Biology is kind of like humanities—lots of people major in it. But a degree is a degree—you likely won’t end up doing wetlab work as a career even if you finish in that major. However, the thinking skills you acquired will be useful to employers, just like the thinking skills your English and history friends have will be even if they don’t get jobs analyzing Chaucer.

      Do some cost benefit analysis about finishing the bio degree vs changing majors vs working without a degree. How much is left? What are the other options? How much of a break can you take before you’ll have to retake classes?

      Also, talk to a career counselor! Sometimes the ones your college provides are really helpful. (Sometimes they’re not.)

  2. I didnt think i was going to comment here… but have you considered doing pediatric speech pathology? Pays well, works with kids, diverse classes and reasonable priced graduate programs. Its a home run.

  3. Help, this episode needed a content warning that sweet tiny puppy noises were going to bless us at the end with their blissful innocence. I was taken by surprise and my heart exploded; huge mess. Hoping it was a happy dream, Sunny!

  4. I’ve had a few friends with biology degrees go on to be science writers for contractors and NASA and such. There are softer jobs circling the science field that exist . You might not start in one right away – but as long as you’re doing something that teaches youa skill or lets you learn on the side you’re headed in the right direction.

  5. I feel like it’s totally normal to feel like this in your 20s. I had a lot of jobs I disliked in my 20’s, but eventually found my place in the world, while earning good money. For me, I worked in a very big company, so I could job hop every 18-24 months to “find myself.” The company culture encouraged frequent job changes anyway, so I could conform while learning about what I liked and disliked.

    I hate the term “follow your passion” and found it unhelpful and it made me feel even more clueless, like I should somehow magically know ahead of time what it’s like to work a real job before ever doing it.

    I like a lot of things. How the hell and I supposed to figure out what I like the most? I felt a lot better when an older cartoonist friend told me that it is often the most talented people who struggle the longest with finding their passion because they literally could do almost anything for a living and be good at it. It was a real turning point for me. Some people have only a couple of doors ahead of them that they can open. When your world is a sea of doors, it’s pretty damn overwhelming.

    Gen Xer telling you, you are right where you need to be and it’s absolutely a normal feeling…but I would encourage you to finish your degree if you are close to graduating. Also, keep building your skill set/resume so you have options moving forward. A lot of employers still won’t look at you if you don’t have a degree of some kind. Does your college have a co-op program? Maybe that can buy you some time to figure stuff out while building the resume? Last but not least, the people often make or break the experience. A healthy working environment that matches your values is gold.

  6. I know a lot of women who fit this type of profile, and a lot of them wound up becoming middle or high school science teachers. I’d suggest sitting down with either someone from the college that you went to, or to someone at a local state college, and strategizing what credits you have and what school switch or major switch will lead you to the quickest “exit-with-a-degree” plan. Sometimes that will be a general science degree, a philosophy degree, even consider kicking down a notch and getting an Associates degree. Any piece of paper can take you up to the next step. Teaching does require a Master’s degree in Education, but these are much less stressful to get (compared to science masters) , and there are usually night programs available. Remember that teaching in a public school is a Union job and includes summer vacations and decent benefit packages.

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