This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information.
When I was in the third grade, my parents did the absolute cruelest thing you could possibly do to a 9-year-old tomboy. They entered me in my school’s beauty pageant.
At the time, I was way more into catching crawdads in the creek than curtsies and tiaras. I hardly recognized the goofy-looking, curly-haired girl in the mirror sporting a bright orange dress and frilly white socks.
Now, I’m not sure what’s common for elementary school beauty pageants, but my school required each participant to fill out a piece of paper with a list of questions: Who are your parents? What are your future goals? You know, that sort of thing.
The night of the beauty pageant, I watched with nervous anticipation as my fellow contestants waltzed out onto the stage smiling confidently into the crowd, hitting their turns and points with ease. My only hope for the night was that I didn’t fall in my one-size-too-big heels.
Destiny is the daughter of Dawn and Steve Perkins. Her favorite animal is a cat and she wants to be a veterinarian. Up next is Amber. Amber likes to sing in her church’s choir on Sundays and dreams of one day becoming a doctor.
I was next. I thought seriously about turning around and running out, but I waited a moment too long and was pushed onto the stage by my former first-grade teacher.
Our next contestant is Megan. Daughter of Justin and Amy, Megan’s favorite animal is a dog and she hopes to one day be a…
*pause, followed by laughter*
Uh-oh! This tough little girl hopes to one day become an FBI Agent!
(Thanks, Sandra Bullock!)
The entire audience roared with laughter. All the other little girls wanted to be teachers, doctors, veterinarians, and I wanted to be an FBI Agent? What a riot!
I’d like to say that my third-grade self flipped them the bird and told ’em to go suck a big one, but I wasn’t as tough as my former aspirations may have led you to believe.
Fortunately for my father’s nerves, my dream of being an agent of the law ended a few years later. After that was the classic veterinarian, followed by skydiving instructor, then teacher, accountant, (I know – ew) and eventually financial planner.
I had all these ideas about things I could do, but when I got to college, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life.
But who in college does really know? I suppose there are those rare snowflakes who decide when they’re nine years old they want to be a doctor and actually follow through with it. But that wasn’t me. From high school through college, I probably went through at least a dozen options before settling into business.
There are a ton of things I wish I had done in college (and am now doing post-college) to aid in my decision making – hindsight is 20/20, right? Here are my tips for 10 things you can do in college to figure out what you want to do with your life.
Learn Your Strengths and Weaknesses
We all want to do something we’re good at, right? The thing is, most of us think we’re good at certain things when we’re actually pretty freakin’ bad at them. For example, I always thought that I was great at multitasking and working in high-stress environments, but as it turns out, I’m really not. Like, at all.
My school offered a free StrengthsFinder assessment and oh how I wish I’d jumped on that one sooner; I learned a lot about what I have to offer as an employee and was able to use that information to put together a sweet and convincing elevator pitch.
If you don’t already know your Myers-Briggs personality type, I highly recommend you take the test. We did this my senior year of college in my soft-skills personal financial planning class as a reflection exercise and I learned SO MUCH about myself and the way I interact with people from reflecting on my personality type and corresponding strengths and weaknesses.
Find a Mentor
Who better to learn from than someone who’s been there, done that. Some of the most successful people in the world preach the value of having a mentor. Tim Ferris, millionaire businessman and author of one of my favorite books, The 4-Hour Workweek, wrote an entire series on The Magic of Apprenticeship.
A mentor is one of the most important resources you’ll ever have. They can help get you get started on the path to success and build your confidence along the way.
Intern or Job Shadow
I started college as an accounting major. After my second year of college, I took a summer accounting internship with a very big and prestigious firm. After three months of learning the auditing world, I realized accounting was NOT what I wanted to do with my life. If it hadn’t been for that internship, I would probably be sitting behind a desk at an accounting firm right now, miserable and wishing I could quit and become a yoga instructor.
That’s what internships are for – validating and invalidating your beliefs and expectations. Take as many of them as you can, paid or unpaid!
Talk to Your Professors
They’re just [cat-loving, plaid-enthusiast] people, but for whatever reason, talking to my professors in college was so difficult for me. I always felt like a fake or a suck up, and I hated asking for help. But the truth is, professors are the most valuable resource a college has to offer! And they’re literally there for you.
One of my professors helped me settle on a career direction, put together a killer resume, and set me up with her connections for job interviews.
Whether you need help with an assignment, figuring out life, or just want to chat to someone about career options, make an appointment or drop in during your professor’s office hours. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until your last year of school to start forming these relationships (like I did).
Take Different Kinds of Classes
My plan going into college was to graduate with two majors (accounting and finance) and a minor (business leadership) in three years. I don’t recommend that. I managed one major (finance/financial planning) and a minor (business leadership) in three and a half years. Still don’t recommend. I wasn’t particularly sold on business, but I had a plan and I was determined to see it through.
Though I did save myself a bit of money by graduating a semester early, I missed out on some really great experiences by not allowing myself the time to take interesting classes outside of my major. Geography of wine? Floral arrangements? Beer brewing? All classes I could have taken and may have thoroughly enjoyed, but now I’ll never know.
Branching out and taking different classes allows you the chance to learn about many different fields and subjects. You may find a new passion in something you’d never even previously heard of. It could change the course of your career, and even your entire life. But even if you don’t end up changing career paths, you’ll become a more well-rounded person and future employee.
Volunteering can take many forms, from walking the dogs at your local animal shelter to teaching free classes at the YMCA. Find something related to what you want to do and look for volunteer opportunities. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a social worker, you could look into volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter.
Not sure what you want to do? Volunteer doing anything you’re passionate about. It’s important to give back to your community, and volunteering is a great way to network and meet individuals from all different backgrounds and industries.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who say their number one regret during college was not studying abroad. Know how many people I’ve met who studied abroad and said they regretted it? Zilch.
Unfortunately, I’m in the former category. But that’s okay because I plan on making that right pretty soon!
My reasons for not studying abroad, or really doing any traveling during college, were money-related and if yours are too, I totally understand. I’m not saying you should go into debt to finance your travels, but if you can swing it, it may just be the best money you ever spend (or so I’m told).
One of my friends/classmates in my undergrad program studied abroad during the winter session before his graduation. When he came back, he said it was the most amazing thing he’d ever experienced. So amazing, he decided to continue the journey by taking a couple years after graduation to teach English overseas.
Traveling abroad gives you the chance to explore other cultures and step outside your comfort zone, but you don’t have to go abroad to have awesome, transformative travel experiences; there’s a ton to see and do right here in the U.S. Backpacking and road trips are great ways to explore new areas for cheap.
Pick Up Hobbies
Sewing, hiking, mountain biking, hoop dancing, disc golf, ANYTHING. This method is as much about meeting new people with different hobbies, interests, and careers as it is about the activity. Of course, you should pick a hobby you think you would enjoy, but remember that the most important thing is to network, network, network.
Read (and I don’t mean textbooks)
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.
– Dr. Seuss
You’re studying finance but you’re interested in archeology. Read about it! You’re a philosophy major, but you dream of designing clothing for your own online boutique. Pick up a book!
It can be difficult to find time to read anything other than textbooks in college (let’s be real – no one reads those either), but I guarantee you it will be one of the best ways you spend your time in college, and after for that matter. Reading can open you up to a whole world you never even knew existed. As much as I love personal finance, I don’t always enjoy reading about it, and I definitely don’t read about it exclusively. Self-development, psychology, productivity, and yoga and meditation are just a few other topics that I love learning about. I’ve learned so much through books without stepping foot inside a classroom.
Pro Tip: Still don’t think you have time to read? Use your bus ride or walk to class to listen to an audiobook with Audible. Sign up for a 30-day free trial and get a free audiobook.
Keep a Journal
Many well-known public figures throughout history, including Oprah Winfrey and John Adams, have been avid journalists. Harvard Business Review cites four reasons for keeping a journal: focus, patience, planning, and personal growth.
Journaling can be a valuable tool if you do it right. It’s always been difficult for me. Writing is difficult for me (despite the fact that I run this blog – it’s gotten easier with time), and I’m not very self-disciplined when it comes to documenting my everyday life. However, I have gotten better with time, and my journals have been extremely useful for tracking progress and reflecting on what has and hasn’t been working for me at work, in my relationships, and with this blog.
For general journaling, I’ve really enjoyed the Q&A a Day: 5-Year Journal. The journal has one question for each day of the year, so you can reflect over five years on how your answers evolve. For my blog/work/relationship journals, I just create notebooks on Evernote. Remember, you don’t have to be fancy. Don’t fall for the bullet journal hype if that’s not your style.
If there’s a topic you’re interested in exploring through writing/journaling, then you may want to consider starting a blog. By starting this blog, I was able to sort of rekindle my love and interest for personal finance and decide on a path forward for with my career. And I’m making a wee bit of money on the side, which never hurt anybody. If you’re interested in starting your own self-hosted blog, check out my step-by-step tutorial.
College (and really all of your 20s I’m told) is for trying out new things and figuring out what you like, and what you’d like to do without. So take advantage of it! Volunteer, network, and make connections. If you don’t do it now, you’re sure to regret it later.
How did you figure out wtf you wanted to do with your life?
I’m a financial coach and author + owner of Goodbye to Broke. I love all things personal finance, money management, and healthy living. And I talk to my dog way too much, if we’re being honest.