When it comes right down to it, I guess I let my high school boyfriend choose my college major.
It was at the end of a date and we were sitting in his car in my parents’ driveway.
He informed me that he planned on majoring in psychology when he went to college, and went on to explain, “Psychology is the practice of giving prescription medication to people who need emotional support.”
Well, that’s actually part of the practice of psychiatry, but I didn’t know that at the time.
I decided right then that psychology would suit me just fine too, and I didn’t really give it too much thought after that.
The subject did in fact prove to be a decent fit for me. It’s not like I had spontaneously decided to be a race car driver or something completely out of left field. I guessed correctly that a psychologist had to be good with people, service-oriented, and a good listener—and I had all of those qualities already. But it turned out that it was not the perfect fit for me.
What bothers me about my first career choice wasn’t so much that it was not a perfect fit, but that I made the decision so lightly, with little regard for the implications it would have on my life for years to come.
I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know
I didn’t have any idea what a psychology major actually studied before I started school.
Nor did I understand that different colleges emphasized different aspects of the field—some schools focused more on conducting research, while others placed more emphasis on actually working with patients. The college I attended, the University of Vermont, is a large, research-based school, which meant that throughout my four years in the psychology department I did not have a single interaction with a person in need of psychological counseling, but instead spent my time running statistical studies on rats and unenthused college students.
No one at my college talked to me about what I wanted to do with psychology when I graduated, nor did I understand at the time that it was my responsibility to figure it out.
(Jim, my husband and the co-founder of Test Drive Your Future, also happened to choose psychology, yet the only psychologist he knew of was a character on a popular T.V. show. It turns out that Jim was just as confused as my boyfriend: Dr. Frasier Crane from Cheers was actually a psychiatrist, not a psychologist.)
The Second Time Around
The second time I chose a career (at age 26), I “test drove” it.
First I re-learned who I was and what I wanted out of life. Things like my interests, values, personality type, and workplace preferences. Then I considered a wide range of career options that seemed to fit me especially well. And finally, I narrowed my options down to two career choices that I wanted to seriously explore: naturopathic medicine and oriental medicine (acupuncture).
In order to make the absolute best decision I could, and eliminate one path completely, I began the test drive process:
- I read books related to both careers and spent hours online, learning as much as I could about the specifics of each career.
- I learned about all the variations of acupuncture and naturopathy, and researched the top schools to understand if their focus was more academic or clinical.
- I scoured the local phonebook for clinics and conducted several informational interviews with professionals in each career.
- I apprenticed with an acupuncturist for a few months, and also landed a paid administrative position at a naturopathic clinic where the doctor even let me observe her work with patients.
After months of research, interactions with professionals, and first-hand experience, I felt that I had “test driven” my options sufficiently to make an informed decision, and from there I confidently pursued a career in acupuncture.
The Key Difference
The difference between how I chose a career in high school and in my twenties is like night and day.
The first time I was on “autopilot,” going through the motions of choosing a major, attending school, and hoping I would figure it out later.
The second time, I was clear and confident about my end career goal, which made the process of getting through another three years of college exciting, inspiring, and motivating. Plus, the second time around I was spending my money, not my parents’, and this made it seem even more important that I take my career decision seriously (sorry, Mom and Dad)!
The second time, I could honestly say to myself years later, “I made the best decision I could at the time.”
Getting in the Driver’s Seat
One of our goals at Test Drive Your Future is to help students get out of the cycle of making major decisions about their lives haphazardly, and instead, help them get “in the driver’s seat” of their college and career choices. So they won’t regret their choices 10 years later, and will be able to honestly say, “I made the best decision I could at the time.” No matter what twists and turns their journey actually takes them on.
If you, or someone you know, could use a little help getting “in the driver’s seat” of your college and career decisions, sign up for our free Career Choice Crash Course.
How about you?
It’s fascinating to learn how other people chose their college majors or career paths, especially when they are a little off-the-wall. We’d love to hear your story about how you chose your first college major or career path in the comments.
P.S. My Third Test Drive…
The funny thing about life is that you just can’t predict all the twists and turns along the way. After becoming an author and being thrown into finishing our website when our designer “dropped the ball,” I was surprised to learn how much I loved web design. In the past few years, I have set up a Hawaii Web Design company called Websites with Aloha and scaled back almost completely from my career in acupuncture.
While not every career can be test driven to this same degree, what an amazing opportunity I had to learn first-hand how well this new (third) career fit my personality, work style, and interests. Rather than discounting any past experience or stories that we’ve used to illustrate our career choice philosophy, I think it confirms even more for me the value of test driving your future.