Education & Admissions

How to Choose a Major When Everyone Doubts You

By Kristin Wilson | Jun 11, 2020
Education & Admissions| Achievers Network

The scariest part of going to college is often choosing a major — committing to a single field of study that will determine your future job prospects, earning potential, and identity as a contributing member of society. Yet, despite the importance and significance of this decision, the traditional education system doesn’t adequately prepare us for it.

I was terrified of choosing a major ever since I started flunking career aptitude tests in middle school. While my classmates excitedly discussed their future lives as doctors, lawyers, and park rangers, all I got was a generic error message. My interests were too varied to match with a single job. It seemed I was destined to be a jack of all trades, master of none.

In an attempt to quell my career anxiety, I started taking AP and DE classes in high school, hoping to gain some insight into what I should be “when I grew up.” Unfortunately, all it did was shorten my timeline to choosing a major. Halfway through my first semester in college, the time had come. Spring classes were filling up, and I had no idea what to enroll in. Panicked, I booked an appointment with a freshman career counselor for advice.

I remember showing up early on the day of my appointment — course catalog in hand — excited to talk to a qualified professional who could help me figure out my future. But, as soon as I stepped into Mr. Hill’s dark, dingy waiting room filled with dust-covered plaques, a wave of disappointment washed over me. “Forget it,” I thought, “This is a waste of time.” Before I could retreat, though, the receptionist called my name, and I begrudgingly made my way into the office.

Our meeting started pretty straight-forward with questions about my interests and grades. But, after going around in circles for a while, the only thing we determined was that I wasn’t good at math. Frustrated, my counselor changed strategies.

“Alright, Kristin,” he sighed. “I want you to close your eyes and envision yourself at your first job. Describe what you see in the workplace around you. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you working with? Are you alone? Who do you report to? What are your responsibilities? Are you wearing business attire or hospital scrubs?”

Unconvinced, I rolled my eyes but went along with it. I began describing a scene that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would manifest in my actual future as a digital nomad. Here’s what I saw:

“It’s a warm, sunny day. I’m at a café in Rome, drinking an espresso. I have my cell phone with me, and I’m waiting to meet someone. I’m not sure what it’s about, but I think I’m working for myself. Maybe I’m there for a deal or negotiation. I’m dressed in casual clothing. I feel relaxed and thoughtful. I see tourists through the window, but I’m not one of them. I’m there for work. I get the feeling that I’ve chosen to be in Italy for some reason, but I could be anywhere. I’m not particularly stressed out about my job. I’m just doing my own thing.”

I cracked an eye open and caught a glimpse of my guidance counselor’s reaction. He had a look on his face that was a mixture of perplexed, suspicious, and disappointed.

“Kristin, what you’re explaining to me isn’t a job. It sounds like you’re on vacation or studying abroad.”

In that moment, he gave up. He handed me a slip of paper in case I wanted to schedule another appointment later in the semester. (Spoiler Alert: I didn’t.)

But to this day, he doesn’t know how valuable that visualization exercise turned out to be. You see, he planted a seed. I didn’t know how or when I would end up sipping coffee in a café in Italy. Still, it was the first time I considered working for myself rather than for a company.

At the time, I don’t think I knew what the word “entrepreneur” meant. There was no such thing as a digital nomad, either — I had a flip phone and a desktop computer. In hindsight, the inspiration for this vision likely came from my senior trip to Italy with my mom. Either way — at that moment — I decided that if my ideal job didn’t exist, I would invent my own. In Europe, apparently.

My vision of working for myself in foreign countries didn’t come with a road map. Figuring out what to do was a matter of trial and error. I considered joining the Peace Corps, teaching English in Japan, or taking the Foreign Service Exam to work in government. I spent a year studying abroad in Costa Rica and Australia, searching for career inspiration. I changed my major three times in two years. By the time I graduated, I had amassed enough credits for two separate college degrees. Yet, I barely graduated on time with a single major — International Business. I figured I liked to travel, and business was general enough for anything, so it would have to do.

After graduating, still “undecided,” I took out a student loan and went to grad school. Then, three months into a nine-month MBA program, I proceeded to burn out with a health emergency at 21. Afraid of what my mid-life crisis would have in store for me if I continue stressing myself out, I took a gap year in Costa Rica, and never looked back.

One afternoon in the fall of 2011, precisely eleven years since that fateful day in the career counselor’s office, I realized I’d achieved my vision. I was “at work,” running my 6-figure business online from an Italian café in Costa Rica with my laptop, an iPhone, and a cappuccino.

The meeting with my guidance counselor flashed into my head. Wait a second — I was really doing this! I sat in shock for a moment. Although it would still be two more years before I’d hear the term “digital nomad,” that’s what I’d described back in Y2K. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the weird synchronicities of life.

For years, my teachers, advisors, friends, and classmates ridiculed my declarations of inventing my own job. They warned me that I would ruin my resume and career prospects by moving to Costa Rica. But I followed my intuition, and here we are.

Don’t Hold Back

If I had listened to my guidance counselor’s advice of being more “realistic” or “normal” with my career expectations, it’s anyone’s guess what I’d be doing today. Instead, I’ve lived and worked from more than sixty countries while self-employed. The ability to work online and travel or live where you want isn’t far-fetched anymore. While the general population may not yet fully understand the implications of digital nomadism and remote work, that doesn’t mean the opportunities don’t exist.

Many students enter college or grad programs with a range of job prospects in mind, only to end up in traditional fields like consulting, banking, or finance. What no one tells you is that there are as many possible career paths as there are people in the world. You’re the only you. It’s okay to ask others for advice, but in the long run, you’re the only one who knows what best.

Don’t let institutional education commodify your dreams and aspirations. Ask yourself what you’d do if you didn’t care what anyone else thought. With the Internet, you can make a career out of playing video games, selling blenders, or testing garden equipment. You can also start a global company or brand.

If you decide to go to college, major in something you’re interested in and trust yourself. If you can’t find a job you like, create your own. Believe that you can turn your skills, abilities, and work ethic into a way to support yourself. Ignore the haters and doubters. With today’s technology, almost anything is possible.

This article originally appeared here.