Career Pressure: Advice for College Students

Guest Post by Brynne Labuzan - Content Writer Intern

As a college student, choosing a career path can seem rather daunting. While college is meant to be a time of exploration and self-discovery, many of us feel pressured to choose a specific career early on and stick to it. This pressure often hinders us from discovering the career path that will lead us towards long-term fulfillment. As such, it's important to recognize where this pressure comes from and how we can prevent it from obscuring our vision of success.

Let's begin by taking a look at the facts.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 1/3 of all undergraduate students change their major at least once within three years of initial enrollment. Moreover, about 1 in 10 students change majors more than once. These statistics suggest that many college students come to realize that their initial choice of study does not serve their personal interests and/or goals. While it is never too late to come to this realization, external pressures often persuade students to continue pursuing a misaligned career path.

To understand the sources of this pressure and the ways in which it affects college students, CareersKitchen surveyed a sample of undergraduate students in the Chicagoland area. About 64% of respondents felt pressured to pursue a specific career path, with an overwhelming majority citing familial expectations and social capital as the primary sources. When asked how this pressure made them feel, students responded with the following sentiments: uncomfortable, anxious, worried, limited, scared, stressed, nervous, and frustrated.

Despite the negative emotions that arise from familial and social career pressure, our survey showed that many students continue to rely primarily on their family and peers for career advice and guidance. While our friends and family can be an excellent source of support when it comes to navigating our career path, it's important to distinguish between your personal goals and the goals others have set for you. At the end of the day, you are the one who is going to be spending a third of your life in whichever career you decide to pursue – not your family or peers.

Trust your intuition

It has your best interest at heart.

When it comes to discovering the career that’s right for you, your intuition is your biggest advocate. If you feel particularly drawn to an unconventional career path, don’t let external pressures deter you from exploring your passions. In contrast to popular belief, it is perfectly okay to test out a variety of fields and positions before committing to a long-term career path. Even if something doesn’t work out, the experience and insight you gain will only help you to further realize your vision of success.

While statistics and survey responses provide a brief overview of this issue, they are ultimately ineffective when it comes to understanding how career pressure plays out in the real world. In order to gain some personal insight on this pressing topic, CareersKitchen interviewed Chicago business owner Tedd Neenan about his unconventional career history.

Meet our interviewee

Tedd Neenan is a 68-year-old licensed aromatherapist who has owned and operated Aroma Workshop in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood since 1993. Prior to opening the shop at age 40, Tedd had a vast career history that took him from working on the Chicago River as a young man, to a dance apprenticeship at the Boston Conservatory in the late 70s, to performing in the bustling NYC dance scene of the 80s, and then back again to his beloved Windy City in the early 90s. Throughout his journey to find career success and fulfillment, Tedd gained a lifetime’s worth of wisdom that we can all benefit from.

After attending the University of Missouri for two years after high school, Tedd decided to drop out to pursue his interest in dance. Discussing his brave decision to leave behind his childhood home to study dance in Boston, Tedd shared, “When I first started studying, I was going at it as a mind-body experience – learning about breathing, understanding rhythm, being in touch with my physical self. I didn’t intend to make it a career or pursue it as much as I did. It started as a curiosity.”

For Tedd, this initial curiosity evolved into a profound love for dance. He found that it allowed him to remain a student of life, constantly learning and developing new skills. However, he often had to justify his passion in context of societal pressures. Speaking of this experience, he explained, “We [dancers in NYC] made a majority decision to not work for ‘the man.’ We did have a large community of dancers, so it was mostly just dealing with society as a whole outside of New York where people were worried about you. They would say things like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re not saving money – you’ll never own a house!’… You know, all these sorts of ideas from the Reagan era that qualified a career in the arts as a bad thing.”

Having lost his father early on in life, Tedd often wondered if his father would have shared similar sentiments regarding his decision to pursue dance. The fear of disappointing his late father instilled a great deal of doubt in Tedd as he navigated his career as a professional dancer. However, he eventually came to realize that the only way to make his father proud was to follow his calling. By choosing to pursue his passion, he was able to show up to work each day with excitement and ambition. In turn, he found that he was developing a reputation and skillset that he could draw upon throughout his life.

When asked what he would say to college students who feel pressured to choose a career, Tedd shared the following advice: “Someone that is 22 is going to have a lot of jobs. I think you are always making your reputation that day, that moment. No matter what job I was at, I worked harder than anyone else – they would all try to keep up with me. And the reason why I was doing that? Because that’s where I was in that moment. It only ever helped me along the way in terms of building my reputation, securing recommendations, feeling professional, and more than anything I went to bed each night being able to say that I put my best in today. That feeling gave me the confidence I needed to pursue what I actually wanted to do, and it came from simply being present.”

This is your journey

You decide where it takes you.

There is no universal guide to finding the career that’s right for you. We are all on our own personal journey and should not allow external pressures to dictate our life trajectory. While you may feel anxious or afraid of disappointing your friends and family by pursuing an alternative career path, try to remind yourself that happiness yields success. By pursuing a career that fulfills you, you will gain the confidence and ambition necessary to succeed wherever you land. In turn, not only will others be proud of you, but you will also be proud of yourself.

Take it from Tedd, a 70-year-old man who continues to show up to work each day feeling like he is exactly where he is supposed to be. This feeling did not come from pursuing a career that others deemed worthy of respect, but by following his intuition and discovering the path that was right for him. Oh, and if you ever have the privilege of meeting Tedd at Aroma Workshop in Chicago, don’t ask about retirement – it’s not even on the table. 

How do you future-proof your career?

@CareersKitchen, we would love to hear how it is going for you!

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