The days of working for one employer your entire life are over. Most people will have numerous employers and hold various positions in their lifetime. Despite this, young people in particular are afraid of making wrong decisions and ruining their future opportunities.
Choosing a study program is the first big decision young adults have to make. Do I want to study at all? If so, what field am I interested in? And how will I earn money after I graduate?
On top of all these difficult questions comes the social pressure to have a clear vision of the future. Changing your field of study feels wrong and you often have to justify it.
It's absolutely no problem if you don't know what you want to do for a living after you graduate school. Experience shows that the best opportunities tend to arise by chance. Of course, you shouldn't wait for luck or coincidence – but if you apply the techniques presented in this article, you'll greatly increase your chances for serendipity.
Before you decide on anything, you should first run through your options in your mind. If you are faced with the question of what you want to study, you should take your time and first write down all the possible options. At best, there should be three to five options that you like at first glance.
In the next step, consider each option individually and think about the future that awaits you with this decision. If you want to study medicine, for example, you can expect a course of study with numerous exams and 12-hour shifts in the hospital later in your professional life. Imagine your personal future as accurately as possible, drawing on testimonials from people who have already made this decision.
After repeating this step for all your options, you will notice how you come up with pros and cons for all of them. Write them down in a list. After a week, you can look at the list again and weigh the different options. If possible, talk to friends, family members, or people who work in your desired jobs.
In the last step, you select the option that you personally feel is best. Your personal opinion does not have to be the same as society's, but it should be based on facts. If several options seem rationally appropriate, trust your gut.
For example, you can flip a coin to let chance decide. Pay attention to your gut the moment you see whether it's heads or tails. If you feel a short flash of disappointment, your subconscious tells you that the other option is the better choice – then you should choose that option.
Review and Try Out Decisions
In the last step, you've identified the best future option for you, but you haven't made a decision yet. Now you need to test your decision in real life. You should keep the following principles in mind:
- The decision should leave you with as many future options as possible.
- The decision should be as easily reversible as possible.
- The decision should make you happy in the long term.
What do these principles mean? Let's say you have to decide whether to study mathematics or business. The first principle says that you should rather choose mathematics because it is much easier to switch from math to business than the other way around. This means that the second principle is also fulfilled: you can switch to more other fields with a math degree, so the decision is easily reversible.
The third principle is the most important. If a decision seems perfect on paper but won't make you happy, it's the wrong choice. If you like math and you're excited about your future career opportunities, then your decision is more or less made.
You should now put this decision into practice in real life. For example, you can do an internship or attend introductory courses at university. If the decision still feels right after that, then you can invest more time and energy by enrolling in mathematics at university, for example.
As you can see, you should break down big decisions into smaller steps. That way, you can more easily adjust and change your mind.
Don't Fall for the Sunk Cost Fallacy
The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes that we tend to overestimate the costs already invested in something, so that we don't change our mind.
This mistake is especially fatal when choosing a course of study! If you realize in your second year that your study program does not feel right anymore, you should change it! What difference do to years make compared to your later decades of professional life?
Don't be afraid to revert decisions if you realize they were wrong or if they don't excite you anymore. You should follow your passion to the best of your ability and be excited about your vision for the future. Your life should not only be controlled by your past decisions, but you should actively shape it in the present.
Criteria of a Good Passion
The following criteria make up a good passion. Not every point needs to be met, but as many points as possible should apply to your vision of the future. You can examine and revise your options with these criteria.
- It brings you joy.
- It keeps you healthy or does not unduly harm your health.
- You can earn enough money with it.
- It allows you to socialize.
- It keeps as many future options open for you as possible.
- It helps other people.
- It offers you more advantages than disadvantages in the medium and long term (whereby short-term disadvantages can be neglected in favor of long-term advantages).
- You can pursue the passion many decades from now.
- It has a certain social prestige or is morally acceptable.
- It synergizes with positive habits (sufficient sleep, good nutrition, regular exercise, reading/learning, etc.).
If you've found a passion where many of these points apply and you've been making choices step by step, you're on the right track!
 Many thanks to Elias A., who brought this topic to my attention via my contact form.