When I was 18 I left for college in Washington D.C. and already knew I wanted to major in psychology. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree but I figured within four years a light bulb would flash on and I’d figure it out.
During my sophomore year of college, I realized I would mostly likely need to get my MA or PhD in psychology if I wanted to get the jobs I had my eye on. So I set on my path preparing myself to go down that road, which included doing a lot of psychology research.
I had two great internships in psychology, and also volunteered working with one of my psychology professors doing research as well. As my senior year approached, I had to make a decision if I wanted to apply for the dual BA/MA program at my college—meaning I’d only need to do one year of a MA program instead of the normal two-year program.
I got all my applications ready to send off. But, something deep in my heart wasn’t committed to doing my MA. I remember calling my mom and telling her I didn’t know what to do—that I couldn’t imagine doing advanced statistics and learning all of these programs for analyzing psychology data.
So, I changed my direction. I started looking for entry level psychology jobs and in that moment I completely panicked. I realized I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life in terms of a career. I felt lost and totally confused.
I watched my other friends applying for jobs and accepting them. I wanted to feel that same feeling they had—but I didn’t have it, and I knew I wasn’t going to.
The next few months happened at a very rapid rate. I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to move to Germany and teach English there. I always wanted to live abroad in Europe and this seemed like the perfect answer. So I went, and taught English for a year to kindergartners. Was it easy? Definitely not. Did I learn a lot? Of course.
After living in Germany for a year I had the taste for life outside of choosing a career path right away and I wanted more of that. At 23, I still had no idea what I wanted to do for my entire life in terms of a career, so I decided to take some time to travel and figure it all out. Since I graduated college I’ve mostly been traveling and living abroad. Now I’m 28—nearly 29—and I’m back at the same crossroads I was at when I was 21: trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life.
Here’s the thing I’ve realized over the past few years, which is something I didn’t know when I was in my early twenties. It’s totally ok to not have your life completely figured out when you’re in your early twenties. Some of us need more time than others to figure that out and it’s completely normal. But, if you do choose the path of not getting a career straight away then there are some things I want you to know that I’ve learned along the way.
Make sure you have a long term game plan
If you’re like me, then you probably won’t fit into a conventional lifestyle that works for most people. But, the thing is, if you want to live an unconventional life, then you need to have a long term game plan. I always had several long term plans in my head—one of them being going back to school and getting my MA in counseling after traveling around the world.
Even if you are in your early 20s and have no idea what you want to do go to college or get some work experience under your belt. You’ll thank yourself later. I’m so happy I have my BA because as I approach my thirties I am really ready to go back to school.
The alternative to not having a long term game plan is what I see happening to some of my friends right now who are in their late twenties and never went to college or gained work experience in one field. Most of them jumped around from country to country doing odd jobs. Now as they approach 30 they are clueless as to what to do, and realizing it’s a lot harder to go back to school to get your BA in your late twenties and come up with a career plan then.
Come up with a few long term game plans and you will thank yourself later!
Gain experience doing something you are passionate about
If you don’t jump into a career right away in your early twenties, then you probably will have time to work on something you are passionate about on the side. For example, I’ve always been passionate about writing and started doing so in my mid-twenties. Now I apply to jobs in psychology and I never get hired. But, you know what? I am starting to get some freelance writing jobs. That’s something I didn’t expect.
You never know what can happen if you put your energy into something you are passionate about. Maybe it will open new doors for you—most likely it will. Try following that path and see where it leads you. I’m sure you’ll be happy with what is in store.
Know it won’t be easy
If you choose an unconventional road for your career, then you will probably get a lot of backlash from people in your life—including from friends and family. I can’t tell you how many times someone has suggested I joined LinkedIn or go back to school. You have to stay strong in these moments and know that you chose the right path for you.
Just because you took a different road doesn’t mean you won’t reach your end goal
Finally, remember that you will definitely be able to reach your end goal no matter what. As I stated above, I have plans to go back to school and get my MA in counseling one day, and I know I will do it. I could have gotten my MA right away when I was 22 and then started down a career path. But you know what? I’ve traveled the whole world and lived abroad three times now. I’ve gained invaluable experience by taking the unconventional road and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. The best part about it is that I know I can reach my end goal and have a career in my thirties until I retire. So, don’t stress–you can have your cake and eat it too sometimes!
It will all come together eventually
So if you find yourself going down an unconventional road of a career, then I hope these tips help you. I wanted to share them with you, because they are things I’ve learned from experiencing life in a different way than many of my other twenty-something friends. I just want you to know that if you do find yourself headed towards a road that isn’t a 9-5 straight away after college that you can definitely make things work for you. Follow your dreams and don’t let anyone stop you. Your career will come together eventually!