For most fourth and fifth-year undergraduate students at Glendon, November is a month of angst and anxiety in preparation for final exams, as well as applications for graduate programs, teacher’s college, law school, and medical school. Many of you will undoubtedly work very hard over the next few years and achieve success, regardless of what this may entail. Having come to university myself as a mature student after working full-time for several years performing stressful yet financially rewarding work, I’d like to share a few thoughts that might help those who aren’t sure about their future.
1) Don’t confuse passion and strength. In other words, you might be very passionate about a specific subject, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you are well-suited for a career in this field. Instead, discover your domain(s) of proficiency. As most children grow up, their parents (including my own) tell them that the greatest aspiration in life is to find a job they love, because this will make the work not feel like work. This is simply not true, at least in the long-term. Eventually, there will come a day when the job becomes mundane or overly difficult, and you will resent the notion that you are meant to love it forever. Instead, try to find a job (and hopefully a career) that you will be able to dominate as a result of your intelligence or specific set of skills and prowess. Your ability to shine in your chosen environment will offset any of the disagreeableness associated with the challenging nature of your chosen work. Work will always (eventually) feel like work, but being better at it than anyone in your environment will increase your self-esteem and sense of personal value to the organization/industry/field. If you happen to find a career that you are passionate about while simultaneously being highly skilled and competitive within the domain, this is extremely rare, but also a wonderful proposition to be cherished.
2) Don’t follow money, but don’t reject it either. During my old job, I came into contact with some of the wealthiest and most successful people in Toronto on a daily basis. I’ve had conversations about life, love, happiness, and success with hundreds of millionaires, and even a handful of billionaires. I can absolutely guarantee that money, on its own, will not make you a happier person. Money simply amplifies your individual traits; it doesn’t give you new ones. In other words, if you are a happy, stable individual, you will most likely become happier with newfound wealth. However, if you are prone to bouts of unhappiness, low self-esteem, or have any other problems in your life that you haven’t been able to properly address, more wealth will only help maximize these negative traits and characteristics. Therefore, I would suggest that addressing any issues you currently face in your life, whether it be family, health, or happiness, is going to pay more dividends in the long-term. What’s the point of being wealthy if you can’t enjoy it? The flip side of this coin is the following: don’t reject the importance of money within our society. You may not wish to drive a Ferrari or own a yacht one day, but I can also guarantee that a lack of money will reduce your happiness. This is especially true if you want to start a family, and you can’t afford basic necessities, such as healthy food, transportation, and anything else you might want or need. Therefore, find a job/career that pays enough to keep the lights on and the fridge full, even if you aren’t enamored by said chosen work. A tremendously large majority of people in our society work jobs they dislike, but would be much worse off if they didn’t do these jobs in the first place. Furthermore, many jobs are vital to the functioning of society – if everyone should find the job they love, who’s going to pick up your garbage or clean your windows?
3) Find some hobbies. After having discovered your strengths and weaknesses, find hobbies to satisfy your passions. If you are good at playing guitar, I would not recommend dropping out of school or quitting your job to start a band and hoping for the best. Instead, turn your interests into hobbies. Not only can this help with maintaining good mental health and overall happiness, but it will also help surmount periods of unhappiness or stress at work.
The next few years will prove to be the most challenging and interesting of your lives. If you still don’t know what path to walk as you finish your undergraduate degree, remember that most of us are in the same boat. Yet, don’t be flustered by the idea of having to choose a particular path. Better to do this now than in 10-20 years, when the number of choices at your disposal are severely limited, and the bias associated with your age becomes detrimental to your career prospects.