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Feeling Trapped?

The other day, I was talking with a friend from high school about how I ended up where I am, what nonprofit I’m working at, and how I’ve enjoyed living in New York City. This friend is preparing to graduate from college in May and wanted my insight on some of those big “life after college” questions.

We got to talking and she asked what my title was at work. I told her and explained what I do and then, as I answered the next question, I had to laugh.

Well, I studied communications, writing, and marketing in school. So I’m not directly in those fields, though my education does help me every day and…

And it made me think. In between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I worked at a summer camp and had the time of my life. As I returned to school, I remember calling a fellow camp counselor in panic mode about how I just know I want to work with kids and that I should be an education major and that I needed to reevaluate my entire life because I was a sophomore in college and I should really declare education if that’s what I want to do.

He quickly quieted my fears and told me that no matter what I majored in I would be fine. He reminded me of a couple family members of his who majored in wildly different subjects but were now pilots or teachers or whatever. It seemed like a stretch, but I relaxed and carried on with my day.

The idea of picking a major seemed so daunting. I didn’t want to feel trapped or defined by any one thing. It’s like I thought that by being a communications major, I was bound to only have the title of “communications specialist” or “public relations director” for the rest of my life. I thought I was boxing myself in. More than that, by not choosing education, was I denying myself the opportunity to work with youth ever again?

And then I graduated. And I took a job in my field and a job in a field I knew nothing about. I took jobs that my college degree didn’t directly prepare me for. And that’s okay. I was hired for things I felt under qualified for and jobs I felt I was born to do. And that’s okay too. Your official degree doesn’t pack you into a box of “you can only do this forever.” It just gives you blocks with which to build your future.

But I think it’s a really big issue that we deal with. And like I said, it lasts beyond graduation. When I was offered my first full time job in New York City after graduation, I panicked. I went for a walk and tried to imagine myself committing to a real, adult job. Then I panicked some more.

And I was scared, truthfully. I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit to something like that. For my entire life, every job I have ever held has had an unspoken “end date.” Summer jobs? End when you go back to school. College jobs? End when you graduate. Life jobs? I mean, if you do it right and you like it, you could literally be there forever.

I snapped back to present day. My friend thanked me for talking about all this and said it helped her feel a lot less trapped. And I immediately understood. I’ve spent a lot of time on the in between, not quite ready to fully jump in and commit to something that I feel will keep me stuck in one place.

But then it dawned on me. If the fear of starting something and becoming “trapped” stops you from beginning at all, then that in and of itself is the true prison.

I get it. It’s scary to commit yourself to a major, a city, or a career. But do it. And if it’s going to be a terrible mistake, well best to make that mistake now and move on as quickly as possible. But you’ll never know if you continue to dance on the edges of safety.

You have unlimited untapped potential. Use it.

Love always,

Liz

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