Finding your academic (and career) passion

By Olivia Martin, 2nd-year Life Sciences student

There are billions of possible careers in the world to choose from. Though this seems fairly obvious, it came as news to me in my first year. In high school, I was given the impression that if you’re good at (insert subject here) you become a (insert corresponding career here).

Some examples of this are: science leads to doctor, arts lead to teacher or lawyer, and athletics lead to gym teacher/sports coach. As a result, I thought I only had about five different career options and if I didn’t choose one of them I would have to stay at my lifeguarding job for the rest of my life. Though maybe not everyone was as naïve as myself, I think this is a common trap that young people fall into.

I came to university convinced I was going to be a doctor, as did about 80% of the people in my program. For me, this conviction to go into medicine stemmed partially from a real desire to help others but also from a need to prove to everyone that I COULD and WOULD do it. I was in the mindset that choosing any other career would be an admission of failure, but I didn’t even know what other options were out there!

As students, we often put pressure on ourselves to do well because we want to achieve certain goals, like getting into medical school — and we attach our self-worth to those goals as if we don’t do lots of other things in our lives already! Transition to university is difficult enough, but it is easy for us to fall into the trap of defining ourselves by our marks or achievements. This can lead to a lot of undue stress.

If you feel this kind of pressure, Learning Strategies can help you cope with it.

  1. Identify your sources of distress. What specifically is worrying you? Your marks? The uncertainty of the future?
  2. Aim to “control the controllables”. This includes the pressure you put on yourself. Have faith that you will do the best you can and you will get to where you need to be.
  3. Change your “mind set” or attitude. Stop being so hard on yourself and try be open to different possible career paths and opportunities. Success comes in many different forms — try not to limit yourself to just one.
  4. Change your behavior. Stop dwelling on the future. Don’t let your undergraduate degree be defined by your worries about what comes next. Remember that you’re here to experience, not just achieve.
  5. Learn relaxation techniques. I find yoga to be particularly helpful, but running or any form of exercise can help you focus and reduce anxiety.
  6. Make an appointment with a counselor at Counselling Services or with a learning strategist.

 (For more information, visit our module on Coping with Academic and Exam Stress.)

We are constantly learning new things and being exposed to new topics and avenues of study. We also have professors, T.A.’s and advisors at our disposal who know about career paths that we would never think of. Even if you do know for sure that you want to be a doctor/ lawyer/ teacher (which are all wonderful career options, if they are right for you), it is important to be open to these new experiences, because you never know when you might find a new passion that you had never considered before. Don’t get stuck on a path that isn’t right for you just because you never checked to see what other options you had. Even if you do your research and find out your original plan was right all along, you haven’t wasted your time because then you have made an informed choice.

It is okay to change your mind, and then to change it again and again and again. Just think of what an exciting adventure you have ahead of you and all the different paths you could take. So if you’re feeling confused, make an appointment with an academic advisor, ask your prof about that one subject you found SO interesting, and join different clubs and groups. Your passion is out there waiting for you.

Photo courtesy of Aidan Wakely-Mulroney under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License.