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At a place where career fairs, job lectures and internship notifications seem to pop up left and right, it is difficult to think about anything other than your career when peering into what you want your future to look like. We quite literally sleep, eat and live at an institution designed primarily to prepare us for a career. As important as it is to plan for these things, and as fortunate as we are to be in such a place that will set us up for successful careers, it’s important to take a step back and ask ourselves what else we want out of life.
Before getting into that, it is important to look at why careers seem to be at the forefront of our minds when considering the future. First and foremost, it is necessary for most of our survival under the system which is currently implemented. No job means no money, which means no food, shelter, healthcare or any other necessities you may need. Additionally, a lack of money also limits the other desires we have in life, such as traveling or pursuing a costly hobby.
Because of this, we have spent most of our young lives preparing for how to survive in this system as adults. From the expectation of attending K-12 schooling, to questions about what our dream job is or if we are going to college or not—they all factor into a building pressure to prepare for a job.
While we should, of course, try to find a job that makes us happy, since it is something we must do for quite a long time, it is important to remember that this is not the only aspect of our adult life that deserves our attention. Instead, there are many different pieces of ourselves that bring fulfillment, sometimes more than a job.
For one of the happiest summers of my life, I was working full time at a lawn mower warehouse. Universally, this is viewed as an undesirable job. It’s physically demanding, repetitive, has low pay and doesn’t seem very fulfilling to most people’s interests. Yet, that summer, other aspects of my life aligned highly with my interests and values. I value friendships and was able to build on many wonderful friendships that summer. I value creativity, and I got to spend a lot of time after work on a creative project. I value health, and worked hard on eating nutritiously and exercising. Even though my job—the aspect of our lives that such a big emphasis is placed on—was not the thing that I was particularly enthusiastic about, other aspects of my life were fulfilling enough to make me feel happy to be where I was at in life.
In order to figure out what else we want in our future, it helps to first look at what we value to understand what concrete things we want. These values can be anything from vague ideas such as happiness or equality to more specific ones like music or traveling.
With exceptions, the best indicator of future behavior is behavior in the present. Ask yourself if the things you do now reflect your values. Oftentimes, we find that a surprising amount of the things we do aren’t accurate representations of what we find important. For example, I can easily spend most of my free time scrolling through social media, yet this only does so much to help me feel connected or happy. Instead, I miss out on time to fulfill values I rarely get to fulfill, such as creativity or being in nature.
We are in college to build the strengths we need for our dream careers, so why don’t we do the same for other aspects of our life? Using the example of valuing music, we can have a long-term goal of continuing to play an instrument through adulthood. More specifically, we can grow this goal into a dream of taking music lessons or playing in a casual orchestra throughout our lifetimes. However, it will be difficult to do this if we are not upkeeping that same value for music now. Maybe this means playing your instrument once a day or getting involved with a musical group on campus. Either way, just like we build up our academic values in college, it is important to do this for other things we value too. In doing so, you might also find that you enjoy your day-to-day life more in the present.
This idea of finding values and connecting them with actions can apply to virtually anything. Valuing equality can mean volunteering for causes that promote this. Traveling can mean exploring the area you’re in, no matter where it may be. Once you find these, dream big and truly think about what you want to experience during your lifetime. Just as we have dream jobs, we can create goals for any part of our life.
Letting go of this idea that our career should be the central focus of our lives is a difficult one to unlearn, however, doing so helps us to find fulfillment in other pieces of our lives that are often neglected. When planning for post-grad lives and careers, remember to take a step back and support the other pieces of yourself too.