With graduation just around the corner and another school year coming to an end, it’s nearly impossible not to think about the future and contemplate what may be in store for you. When thousands of high school and college students graduate this year, commencement speakers across the country will tell them to follow their dreams and pursue their passions. But how can you pursue your passions when you don’t know what they are yet?
The Dr. Seuss classic “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” taught us from childhood that we can steer our feet in any direction we choose. If you don’t know which direction you want to go in, fear not: Taking time to explore your interests and experiment with different career paths can actually benefit you in the long run.
Scroll through the list below for five reasons it’s OK if you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up — and why that may even be a good thing.
1. It’s Better To Explore Than To Pigeonhole Yourself.
Before you get too stressed about not knowing what you want to do with your life, consider how much worse it would be to force yourself to do something that you’re not truly excited about. Getting stuck in a career when your heart isn’t in it will ultimately set you back more than taking time to find the right career for you. According to a 2008 School of Life survey, over half of 20s-somethings regret their career choice, and would choose a different path if they could go back and do it all over.
It’s scary to not know what you want to do or what the future will hold for you — but embracing that uncertainty and giving yourself time to experiment and explore is what will lead you to something you really love. So don’t rush to choose a career just because you think everyone else knows what the want to do.
2. Job & Career Changes Happen All The Time.
Particularly in the earlier part of your career, it’s likely that you’ll jump around between different jobs — which may or may not be in the same field — a number of times. It’s estimated that most American workers will change their careers roughly seven times in a lifetime, although that number is contested.
You can have a long, prolific career even if it doesn’t follow one linear trajectory. Martha Stewart started out as a stockbroker, and actors like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have gone on to find success and fulfillment in behind-the-camera roles after years of acting.
3. It’s Not About Finding Your Passion — It’s About Doing Something Valuable.
William MacAskill, founder of ethical career service 80,000 hours, recently wrote that the best career advice isn’t to follow your passion: It’s to do something valuable. “Do something that genuinely helps others and makes the world a better place in a major way,” he says.
So instead of creating an idea in your mind of what success looks like and how you can climb up the ladder to get there, instead think about how you can use your particular strengths and talents to make a difference. It doesn’t have to be the end-all-be-all for your career — just get started with something that serves others and makes you feel good, and let things develop from there. As MacAskill notes, research has found that job satisfaction is directly correlated with how much your work affects the well-being of others. Anyone can find a fulfilling career this way, without knowing exactly what they want to do.
4. It May Not Feel Like It, But You Still Have Lots Of Time.
And discovering your passion (or finding something valuable that you enjoy doing) doesn’t happen overnight. Some people know exactly what they want to do from childhood, while others discover their passions in college elective courses, and still others stumble upon what they truly love years into their first, second or third careers.
Vincent van Gogh, for instance, didn’t learn how to paint until his late 20s. Sylvester Stallone wrote the Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Rocky” in three and a half days when he was 29 years old, while balancing jobs at a deli and a movie theatre. The point is, you never know when inspiration will strike, so give it time to happen naturally.
5. You Can Enjoy The Exploration.
Figuring out what you want to do is about exploring all different sides of your personality. There are so many possibilities within ourselves, and choosing a career path is about looking at all those possibilities and turning one (or a few of them) into something lucrative. That process itself can give you a better understanding of who you are and what you value, so it’s not worth skipping over it in your race to the picking-a-career finish line.
Trust us, taking the time you need to explore will ensure that you end up doing exactly what you want to do!