When You Realize Your Degree Doesn’t Define Your Career

Thinking about your career is something we all start doing from a young age, whether we know it or not. It’s that question they asked you in grade one, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” where you wrote a sentence and drew a picture beside it. Having dreams and aspirations is an amazing thing, and as a kid, imagination makes it even better because the possibilities are seemingly endless. But at the end of the day, that question started preparing us to think what we wanted to be. Or rather, what we hoped to be.

The beauty of growing up is that things change, which means so does the answer to that question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I can remember so many different career options that crossed my mind from being six years old up until 21: a vet, a dentist, a teacher, an actress, a paediatrician, forensic scientist, until closer to my time of picking a university, a TV reporter. That eventually brought me to where I am now: in my fourth year in Ryerson’s Journalism program, having just completed my final semester internship and courses. Now, take the chance and ask me what I plan on doing after graduation, and I would say good luck getting an answer from me right away. I think most grads-to-be can admit that’s our most hated question when it comes to graduation. That’s not to say we may not have things figured out, but it’s something else to think we’re almost essentially finished with “institutionalized learning.”

Here’s some food for thought: what if I knew that maybe journalism wasn’t what I wanted to do. That after four years of studying something so specific, I’ve realized, “Hmmm I’m not exactly sure if this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” It’s kind of scary. More than that, it’s way scarier because I’ve set myself up in many ways to take this career path and because I was so sure it was what I wanted. Having my peers and mentors and families support me and encourage me, and realizing that I’m kind of good at it definitely doesn’t make it easier to be writing this. Oh, and I also completed an internship with CTV Saskatoon this semester, where I got to do my own reporter stories and live hits on television. I learned a lot, and I was given a ton of responsibility (trust me, there’s no coffee fetching at this internship), and everyone was so kind and willing to teach me.

So ask me again, if this is what I want to do, and I think my answer would still be “I’m not sure.” During the internship, it may have been the shock of being in a new city, knowing nobody and also not having the freedom of a university schedule. Or it could also be the realization that it’s okay to come to terms with not being totally in love with my degree path. It’s okay.

Don’t get me wrong, my time at Ryerson in the Journalism program has been absolutely unreal. And I’m not just saying that. The Journalism program, the opportunities and most importantly the people I’ve met here have taught me more in four years than I could have ever imagined. I think when most people hear me say “I’m not sure this is what I want to do anymore,” they think, “Wow, what a waste of your time.” Totally wrong. If it wasn’t for my time in the program I wouldn’t have learned what I do and don’t like. There are so many skills, life lessons and techniques I learned throughout my program that I probably wouldn’t have been able to learn on my own. But outside of my program, it’s my extracurriculars that taught me how much I love people, teamwork especially. I have learned how I thrive being around people, being in an environment with a friendly work-culture, and being able to have lots of creative freedom and opportunity with my work. And the “mainstream” form of journalism doesn’t exactly offer too much room for that kind of freedom.

Working in news isn’t exactly what I pictured it would be. I mean yes there’s the excitement of “Mom, look I’m on TV!” and beyond that, a lot of accountability that needs to be taken. It’s still an important job. It’s just not the job for me. I want more creativity, adventure, and less corporation. Above all, I realize I’m not searching for that “40-year long,” career anymore; I’m searching for jobs and experiences that will help me build my skills, help me learn new things, exercise my creativity, but also allow me to personally help others in my pursuit.  

So maybe I want to do something kind of related to storytelling. Maybe creative content curation, or long-form storytelling, like documentary, or public speaking, creative marketing or directing, or maybe even take up my former passion of acting. I don’t know, something along those lines. But not quite “journalism.”

After all of this writing, I realize it’s okay. It’s okay to not love what my degree is telling me to. Because with every experience comes learning. If I didn’t make the move out to Saskatoon for this hands-on internship as a reporter for CTV, I probably would have never known what it’d be like until I got a full-time job as a reporter. And by that point, I would have already been in pretty far so I’d have to tough it out and then I’d be one step behind finding what I really wanted.

So if you have a similar feeling, know that you’re not the only one. It might be hard to admit it to yourselves, and others, and for me, my biggest worry is always letting people down. But if graduating from university means it’s time to grow-up, then maybe it means it’s time for me to not worry so much about what other people think about my decisions. Maybe it’s time to look at my future “career” as different stages, different levels of my life where I’ll be approached with challenges and excitement and learning. My dad, who’s one of my biggest role-models, recently sent me this article titled “Don’t worry about if it’s the right job until you get it.” At first, I was a bit confused because would that mean I’d have to apply to jobs with a sense of uncertainty and just scouring for “whoever would hire me.” But then I thought again and realized that it could also mean that exploring things outside of your comfort zone could be the answer to my career worries. Trying something out and learning if I like it or not. We seem to avoid the whole “trial and error” stuff as we grow older because we feel like getting older means less error. It doesn’t, and not trying because of that fear just puts you one step further behind.

If there’s one thing I’ll leave you with, it’s this: If you learn at the end of the day you don’t like something after you’ve invested a lot of time into it, know that you still learned something. It’s still valuable and that knowledge and experience just takes you one step closer to finding what you may love. So, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, because that “Bachelor of XYZ” only means what you market yourself to be. Your degree doesn’t define your career. Your experiences do.