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Not knowing what you want to do is completely OK

By Dr Brock Bastian, Associate Professor in the School of Psychological Sciences at University of Melbourne in VCE
15th of December 2017

If you’re feeling stressed about your future, we’re here to help.


“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question teens always get asked and if you’re a recent Year 12 graduate, it’s a question you’re probably sick of hearing.

Deciding on what career path you should take can be a daunting prospect. You’ve spent the past 13 years learning and growing, and suddenly you’re thrust into the real world and told to fend for yourself.

If you’ve known what you want to do since you were a kid, that’s great! But if you are one of the majority who aren’t sure what to do in the next phase of your life, or you are anxious about deciding what to study, don’t worry – these feelings are completely normal.

 

Choice is stressful, but stress can be a positive thing

With so many study options at your fingertips, it’s commonplace to be told that ‘the world is your oyster’. While it might sound exciting, too much choice isn’t always a good thing. If you aren’t set on a particular course or career it can make deciding on a degree incredibly stressful.

However, you needn’t feel overwhelmed by the choices available to you, or indeed what the outcomes of those decisions could be.

My work as a social psychologist has shown that facing stress is part of life and can actually promote pleasure and greater fulfilment. The challenging experiences you are currently facing in this decision-making period will give you a sense of appreciation when the good times do come around.

Imagine your graduation in 3-4 years’ time; it will be so rewarding and such a powerful experience because there might be risks, failures, and challenges along the way. Or now that you’ve got your results, if you didn’t spend hours studying for exams, you wouldn’t be as excited to have made it through Year 12.

 

Deal with it in a healthy way

The trick with dealing with stress is to express it in a healthy way that aligns with your values.

When dealing with this anxiety of deciding on a course, and indeed at any point in your life, it’s important to be genuine and try to embrace these feelings. In this instance is a three-step process:
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  1. Acknowledge your feelings
    Be authentic with your emotions and acknowledge how you are feeling. You’re making a significant decision that will have future implications. Recognise what you’re feeling and don’t ignore it or try to discredit it..
  2. Understand why you’re feeling that way
    Once you’ve acknowledged what you’re feeling you can understand what’s making you feel this way and start to explore the benefits and the drawbacks of your decision. Choosing your uni course might make you feel anxious, but it’s also a benefit because you know you’re doing something important and will provide a powerful sense of achievement at the end when you can step into a career that you’re passionate about and interested in..
  3. Embrace the challenge
    Sometimes the best thing to do with fear is to walk straight towards it and embrace the experience, even if it’s overwhelming. I suggest you head to the University of Melbourne’s Course Information Day to find out more about our degrees, speak to people who have studied the courses you’re considering, or talk to your parents about how you’re feeling – look at ways you can start to push through the anxiety and form a clearer idea about your decision.

 

This discomfort is all part of the natural process and you shouldn’t be concerned about feeling nervous or worried about making these decisions.

Millennials are entering a workplace that is continually undergoing tremendous change, and your first job out of uni will look very different in another 10 years. In fact, the Foundation for Young Australians says young people should expect to have 17 different jobs across five careers in their lifetime!

The great news is, with the University of Melbourne’s ‘Melbourne Model’, you have the ability to explore broader areas of study outside of your chosen degree, meaning you aren’t locked into a specific career path from day one. You can pursue your interests in one area, while still broadening your knowledge in other areas, deciding along the way what’s right for you.

Ultimately, whatever you decide to pursue post-school, you are never locked into it and there are always ways to seek out other opportunities. Try to keep this perspective in mind when you’re making your decision. Uni isn’t about slotting into a pre-determined course and getting the same piece of paper as all of your classmates at the end. It’s about following your passions, discovering your strengths, and graduating with distinction from your classmates.


Register to attend Course Information Day on Monday 18 December, 10am-2.30pm, Parkville Campus.

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