by Eric Reiner
At 15, I was sure I was headed to medical school.
At 16, I decided that engineering was the most promising career for my future.
At 17, I knew I would never conform to the system and told my family I was leaving the grid and getting my DiveMaster license in Thailand and traveling around leading SCUBA dives.
At 18, I am heading to Northwestern University, and for the first time in my life, it seems I have absolutely no idea what my life will become.
Fortunately, I am not alone. I am entering college at a time when “undecided” is the most popular entering freshman’s major. Does this indicate some sort of failure in the United States high school system? Perhaps. In some other countries with university systems as competitive as the U.S., such as England, Canada, and many other European countries, the major one chooses is much less flexible and it is difficult to change once you enter. Hence, the decision of major before you enter university is more crucial. It is difficult enough deciding where you will spend the next four year of your life, but deciding at 18 years old how you will live the rest of your life is extraordinarily difficult.
If someone asked me where I am heading I would have no idea. I am moving to a place that I have only seen once, with a whole load of students in the same position as me, but whom I have never met. Those that may become my best friends and most influential people, and those that I will probably never even make eye contact with. This next year seems to me as the most important year of my life. The group of kids I happen to make friends with, the classes I happen to take, the people I happen to meet, could all steer my life in completely different directions. That is why the second strongest feeling I have other than excited is nervous. I am not only entering this time in my life with an undecided major, but an undecided outlook.
Even after participating in the broadest areas of extracurricular as well as curricular activities, ranging from Emergency Medical Services to Rock Climbing in Thailand, and from Medical Terminology to Myth and Bible, I still haven’t found my “thing.” The only thing in these years that I have found without a doubt always makes me happy is doing a different thing than I did the week, month, or year before; just change in general. So, no matter what I do, it will without a doubt not include doing the same thing day after day. Travel is a plus, as it is the epitome of change and experiencing new things (even though skydiving didn’t give me the rush I was looking for while just sitting atop a viewpoint in Fiji is one of my fondest memories thus far.) So, that is where I am right now.
Right now, as an intern sitting in an office, I know that I cannot see myself working in an office for the rest of my life. It is something I never thought I would be able to do even when I was a little kid. I know that I want to work hard when I am working. But I also know I need much free time to be functional and productive. I have always hoped to find my own path in life, and to not fall into an already established career, such as an investment banker, lawyer, doctor, etc. I always thought of myself as the guy who ends up doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Not only does that address my need of change, but also would give me the free time I need when I need it. I see this as a reasonable path for me as I am the one who is always willing to try new things. I am the first one to jump off the cliff into the lake, I am the first to say the thing that most people wait to say, and when there is something that I want, I am the first to reach for it.
Even though entrepreneurship is such a broad title, if I could predict that there would be something I am doing, it would be that. I am good at sticking to what I say, for example if I decide that I need to work a 40 hour week, I will be able to do it. I truly hope I am still traveling and am not doing something I am not happy doing, because I am aware of all the people that have gone through life just for the money and are hating where they currently are, even some with all the money in the world. By 28, I truly think I will still consider myself a kid. I hope to have finished most of my traveling by this time, just getting ready to settle down. By 38, I could be anywhere. I can definitely see myself living out of a backpack without any real home for a few years out of college, but that is really just as far as I can look. If and when I do have a family, traveling will be something that I make a necessity in our life, so a flexible work schedule is about as necessary as anything I will consider.
So, after my journey through this writing piece, maybe I know that the U.S. school system did not fail me, since I do in fact know what it is that I need in this life, even though I have no idea what specifically “it” is. I am fortunate to not be growing up in a place and time where my path is set in stone for that reason. So, all in all, maybe undecided isn’t as undecided as it seems.
Eric Reiner is an intern at the Families and Work Institute. FWI studies the impact of generation and work. For the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce, which looks at how different generations approach work and workplace flexibility, click here.