When we begin thinking about exploring, whether that is exploring majors or exploring careers or exploring summer semester opportunities, or just exploring new restaurants in town, there are some questions that we can ask ourselves and spend some time reflecting upon that may help bring us closer to an answer. Here I’ll list five questions that can serve as a great starting place for your exploration journey.
- What don’t I want?
While it may seem counterintuitive to focus on the opposite question from the one you really want to answer, a decision with a large number of choices can be made exponentially easier by eliminating some of those choices.
List out all of your possible options. Print off a list of all of the majors offered at the university. Write out all of the jobs that you have discovered in your job search. Dream big and imagine all the possible opportunities you have for the next summer or semester or period of time and make a list.
Then the fun begins. Take a big red marker and start X-ing out options that you know you don’t want. If you know you don’t like natural sciences, X out the majors in that school. If you know moving to a certain city is not an option for you, X out that job opportunity. If you know you don’t like sushi, X out all the sushi restaurants.
Narrowing down the possibilities can make an overwhelming decision a little less so. Looking at your newly narrowed list can inspire you to keep moving, since you’ve already made a huge step in the right direction.
Additionally, you can consider in this same area the opportunities that you have had that you really didn’t like. If you volunteered somewhere or attended a presentation that drained you rather than excited you or left you wishing for something different, these can be considered learning opportunities as well. Use them to begin considering other options.
- What is my why?
Grandmas are the most amazing people, and mine always asks me a question that is just another representation of her infinite wisdom. She tells me not to try to figure out the what but to answer the question of what is my why. Why do I get up every morning? Once I have an idea of the why, the what will fall into place a little more easily. Knowing your why can also sustain you when the what of accomplishing that why gets mundane or challenging.
Another incredible thing of knowing the why is that it can help reduce the stress and pressure of having to know the exact what. If I know, for example, that my why is to love on children, there are many “what’s” that I can choose and still accomplish that why. For instance, I could pursue a career as a teacher, an educational policy maker, or a TV writer for children’s television. Each of these career paths would give me the opportunity to make the world a better place for children.
I will add that this is a big question. There may not be a clear answer to this question the moment you sit down to think about it, and that is okay. More than anything, thinking about this question can be a great way to get to know yourself a little bit deeper and start thinking about that most important thing that you don’t want to lose sight of no matter what the “what” is in each different season.
- What are my strengths?
What are you good at? What are your gifts? What experiences have you had that helped you to realize or develop certain strengths? What type of tasks come naturally to you?
These are not all questions that you have to answer alone. There are a ton of amazing assessments that you can take to help identify this information. Simple personality assessments such as True Colors or the Myers-Briggs Trait Indicator can help you better understand your gifts and strengths. Assessments such as the O*NET Interest Profiler, the TypeFocus, and the Strong Interest Inventory can provide more specific information related to strengths and careers that fit well with those strengths. Even that Buzzfeed quiz which tells you what cupcake flavor you are may give you valuable information about certain aspects of your personality.
Once you have taken any of these assessments, you may be interested in scheduling an appointment with an exploring consultant to discuss the results and their possible application. You can schedule an appointment with our incredible exploring consultant, Antonina Ignatiuc, on Handshake or by calling the front desk at (706) 542-3375.
Another great way to answer this question is to ask other people. Ask people that know you in lots of different settings as well. Ask friends, family, coworkers, and peers. This outsider perspective can provide insight that we may not be able to provide by our own reflection.
While I always recommend focusing on the positives, it can also be beneficial to look at the flipside and identify things that are not your natural strengths. While it is always great to challenge yourself and learn new skills, maybe if numbers have never made much sense to you, a career in accounting or a major in math education may not be the most fitting paths.
Knowing those areas where we really thrive can provide direction and help narrow our decisions even more.
- What are my practical needs in a major, job, etc.?
In any decision, we have to factor in certain practical considerations. There’s no fun way to discuss crunching numbers and I don’t know all of the factors that go into any person’s decision, but some things to consider may be salary, benefits, paid time off, location, cost of living, or maternity/paternity leave. As has been a theme throughout, take some time to soul search and decide what you need practically from a decision.
Sometimes these considerations can be the hardest ones to make on our own. While it may be helpful to reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or mentor when considering all of these questions, this one may require more expert opinions. Reach out to people (both students and staff) in the major that you are considering. Connect with professionals in the field you are interested in - **wink wink** use the UGA Mentor Program. Meet with an academic advisor or a career consultant. This is the information-gathering question, so don’t be afraid to lean on those with more expertise in an area.
- What excites me?
After considering all of the practical things, disregard all of it for a second. Imagine that the money and the location and the title and all of the practical details are no longer considerations. Ask yourself a variation of the miracle question: “If none of this was a concern, what would my life look like?”
While travelling the world with all of my best friends, learning the languages, trying the local foods, seeing all the best artists in concert, and visiting all the local markets is not necessarily realistic for me without a more practical way to support that, I can learn a lot from that vision.
Oftentimes when we remove all the practicalities, we can see what really inspires us, what would make us excited to get out of bed every morning. Once you’ve taken some time to zoom out and see these things, you can zoom back in and approach this decision through the lens of how to get as close to this vision as you can while also considering the other information gathered through these previous reflections.
These five questions are not a magical formula for an answer to your exploring question, but they are a start. Remember that exploring is just that…exploring. Taking time and taking advantage of a wide range of opportunities to help you discover the answers to these questions is so normal and so valuable. Know that this is a journey and that there are people here to support you on this journey. And so with that, a little word of encouragement for the road!