Originally published on FutureRising.com
When I was deciding what to get my undergraduate degree in, I was often given the advice, "study what you’re interested in" or, "follow your passion." At the time, I was interested in biology and how the brain worked so I decided neuroscience would be the perfect fit and headed off to university. This was fine at first because I was busy focusing on the transition of leaving home and being more independent. But about three years into my degree, I realised that neuroscience was not something I was interested in anymore.
It turns out the "follow your interests/passion" mantra, is terrible advice. Passions and interests are, by definition, fleeting and temporary which means they should not be factored into a decision affecting the rest of your life. Since then, I have thought a lot about this and read several books on the topic.
Here are three pieces of wisdom I found more useful for choosing a degree or career path when it’s not clear:
1. FIND WHAT IS ALWAYS INTERESTING TO YOU
While I was doing my undergraduate, I was required to take psychology classes and I found that they were the classes I enjoyed the most and performed the best in. I also took and enjoyed an intermediate fiction writing class which centred around developing believable and relatable characters. What I soon realised is that my interest in neuroscience, psychology, and character development all came from a broader interest in understanding why people do what they do and what motivates their behaviour.
So when deciding what field you want to go into, try to think about what is always interesting to you. Make a list of all the activities and subjects you enjoy and look for the common threads among them. Chances are, that will point you in the right direction.
2. FIND OUT WHAT YOU’RE BAD AT
Often, finding what you always enjoy is difficult because you only have a few things you enjoy. For me, prior to university, I refused to try new things. I had two or three things I knew I would generally succeed in so trying something new that I might be bad at, seemed ridiculous. Unfortunately, this gave me tunnel vision when it came to choosing a career path. Instead, I should have been constantly learning new things, trying new activities, or reading books. This is the only way you can have a large enough sample size to be able to find the patterns in the things you find stimulating and fun. The internet makes this incredibly easy so you might as well use it.
3. MAKE SURE YOU’RE VALUABLE
At the end of the day, you will need to make a living with whatever you choose to make sure what you’re pursuing is valued by at least some people somewhere. This is not to say you should base your future on money, but you should base it on if you are going to solve problems that people need solving. Whether that’s making progress on cancer research or trying to find the right way for a company to communicate with its customers, it should be something people are willing to pay you to do. After all, if you are being paid for your work it means you are generating value for somebody else. While you might think your handmade quilts are amazing, if nobody wants to buy them it doesn’t matter what you think.
A year after graduating I decided to go back to school to get an MSc in Marketing. After reading new books and exploring new areas, I found that marketing would allow me to explore human behaviours while also letting me interact with people and working my creative muscle. I have no regrets about getting my degree in neuroscience and have actually found it quite valuable in my subsequent studies.
Your chances of nailing exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life when you’re 20, are slim. Think about the three steps above and make your decision but after that, just do your best and be ready to adapt.