What Happens When Your Degree and Your Career Aspirations Don't Line Up?

“I have invested years into this. Not just wonderful, easy, 'my life is so great' years, but hard, intense, rewarding years. Now, the next natural step is to move forward. After four years, it’s time. But if moving forward is the right thing to do, why do I feel so uneasy? Why do I lie awake at night wondering what else is out there? Why do I look at people who have chosen alternative paths with jealousy? But no! I can’t just throw away everything I’ve worked for in the past four years. Maybe it’s too late. I owe it to myself to make this work.”

If you have ever had this internal dialogue with yourself, you are not alone. For the record I am not talking about romantic relationships. I am talking about careers. This article is for those of you who have spent countless years and thousands of dollars to earn higher education degrees, and then feel trapped to work within the confines of said degree. The ones who earn master’s degrees in education, yet decide to become hair stylists or physical trainers. The doctors and psychiatrists who dream of moving to Los Angeles to become actors and comedians. The attorneys who long to leave their law firms to write novels.  The accountants who want to quit their jobs and open their own bakeries or flower shops.  If this is you, lean in.

Whether you are in an unhappy romantic relationship, or working in a career that no longer fits your professional desires, you are your own worst enemy. That’s right. I said it. Go look in your mirror and take a long, hard look at yourself. You are standing in the way of your own happiness. You are blocking your own blessings. You are prohibiting yourself from reaching your full potential. It’s 2018! It’s time to get out of your own way.

Let’s talk about your concerns. What will people say? Well, who cares. Are you really willing to be unhappy for the next fifty years because of nosey Becky and jealous Bob? Becky and Bob will go on to live their own miserable lives, not thinking about you, while you live yours trying to please them. The people who truly love you will support your decision. Take Becky and Bob out of the equation.

Now that they are gone, let’s talk about your wasted time. Imagine that I really was talking about a romantic relationship in the first paragraph. What if your best friend who was no longer in love with his or her boyfriend/girlfriend, told you that he or she was getting married, because they did not want the past four years of their relationship to go to waste.

If you are a good friend, you may tell your best friend that they did not waste their time. More than likely, they’ve grown and learned valuable life lessons that they can use moving forward. They probably have a better idea of what they like, and what they don’t like. You may tell them that in the grand scheme of life, four years in a relationship is not enough time to justify an eternity of unhappiness. Now, look in the mirror and give yourself the same advice. Say, “Hey self, you have learned a lot! You have so many valuable, transferable skills.” Think about buzz words like, “leadership skills”, “critical thinking”, and “project management”.

Next we’ll address the most pressing and complicated concern – money. I do not intend to downplay financial limitations. I am right there with you. After earning my Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctorate degrees, I owe the government over $200,000 in student loans (I am not kidding). Some of you may owe much less, and sadly, I know some of you owe much more. Some days I am paralyzed by the fear of being in debt for the rest of my life. Those days are not good days. Today is not one of those days.

Today, I have perspective. No matter what your religious beliefs are, one thing remains true. You cannot take your money with you to your grave. You can spend it, save it, and leave it behind for loved ones, but once you’re gone, it no longer belongs to you. With this attitude in mind, I began to think about my life. Is $200,000 worth a lifetime of unhappiness? Can you put a price tag on the quality of your life? Sure, my future children would love it if I could pass down boatloads of money, but how wonderful would it be to pass down lessons in persistence, faith, and hard work instead?

From a practical standpoint, the Obama administration has created incredible loan repayment options, from the Income Based Repayment Plan, to the Pay as You Earn Repayment Plan. These plans allow you to pay back your student loans at a rate you can afford. You may also have to make some sacrifices. Maybe you can’t afford to get guacamole every time you go to Chipotle. Maybe you ditch cable television. Maybe you have to keep your iPhone 6 for longer than one year. Or maybe you have to start using those coupons you throw out every week.

Maybe you are still unconvinced. Maybe you are still afraid to take a leap of faith and step into the unknown. Maybe you are afraid to leave behind the comfort and stability of your current lifestyle. Maybe you feel inadequate.  If that’s you, take another look in the mirror and try to see the potential that lives inside of you. You are powerful beyond measure. The most common way people give up their power is by believing they do not have any.

I am a firm believer that we are the most successful at what we do when we are passionate about what we’re doing. We are all born with talents, gifts, and inexplicable passions.  If you are searching for meaning and purpose in your career, don’t start with your degrees and your qualifications, start with your passions. Fifty years from now, make sure you can say you chose your life, you didn’t settle for it. The choice is yours, my friend. Choose wisely, and get out of your own way.

By: Kiara Imani Williams