Operation: What’s Next

February 4, 2024

It was my sophomore year of college and everyone enrolled as a psychology major at my institution was required to stand in a circle to begin yet another “ice breaker” activity. We were asked to introduce ourselves by sharing our name, college year, and what we wanted to do with our degree. I immediately witnessed a variety of responses due to students being put on the spot. A spectrum of body language from confidence to fear. For the next twenty minutes, each of my classmates shared their name, year, and searched for the words to explain why they were pursuing a degree in psychology, some certainly more confident than others.

That experience was a milestone in my college career. This was an “aha” moment in my college career – everyone around that circle was working toward the same degree as me. On the day of graduation, we’d walk across the stage and receive the same sheet of embossed paper regardless of our grade point average, number of hours studied, or nights we didn’t sleep. What was going to make the difference was our ability to determine our personal passion within a major and the network and experiences we built to prove our proficiency within that field of study. That day, my college scope widened from completing classes like tasks, to a self-assigned mission to figure out my passions and develop the skills necessary for my field of work. And so it began, Operation: What’s Next.

Throughout my senior year of high school, I answered the, “What are you going to major in when you go to college?” question enough times to wish I had an audio recording of my answer. What many people failed to ask me was what I wanted to do with that major after it was earned. It wasn’t until I got to college that I fully understood the vast array of opportunities in the field of psychology. As the study of the human brain and behavior, majoring in psychology ultimately meant that I was preparing for most any job that relied on human interaction. The skills that I would acquire could serve me in so many ways, but what did I want to do with it and how could I prove to an employer that I had a specific set of skills that would make me a good fit for a position?

College is the perfect time to figure out what felt like a good fit. It is a time where students can try on many different hats in terms of self-presentation, and interests to figure out who they are and where they fit. The most valuable moments were when I figured out what I didn’t like. With each discovery of things I didn’t like, I was able to more quickly make decisions about where and with whom I wanted to invest my time. I began reflecting on interactions with professors, classes, extracurricular groups, and jobs to sift through what components of those experiences I wanted to maintain in my future career.

My “What’s Next” mission required me to seek out opportunities outside of what was within my assigned credits of study each semester. Though classroom learning was imperative to my development, it could not be the sole provider of insight for my passion quest. I began joining organizations like student government, got on-campus jobs in the counseling center, campus security, and became an RA. These opportunities armed me with tools including new skills, connections, ideas, and ultimately a learning lab to discover likes and dislikes. My classroom learning provided me a set of tools, but I found that I pulled the same ones out of my toolkit each day. By my senior year, my comfort zone had tripled in size as I was piloting a campus-wide leadership program and running a small support group for students who struggled to navigate social environments predominately attended by our autistic population. I not only found my passion for student development, but I honed my craft before even receiving that embossed piece of paper.

Tasks to complete your own Operation: What’s Next

  1. Determine your passion within your major – Keep in mind that your diploma is the tool that will lead you to the door, but your skills and experiences are the keys to open that door
  2. Engage with people and activities that help you figure out what you DO and more importantly DON’T like
  3. Build your toolkit by getting outside of your comfort zone to try new things – join clubs, apply for jobs, network, etc.