Remember when you were in elementary school and your teacher asked you, “What would you like to do when you grow up?” Most children’s answers have nothing to do with what they actually end up doing for a career as adults. I’m not sure what I would have told my elementary school teachers, but the other day I found a letter I had written my 14 year-old self, ‘from my future self’. It had been an exercise in my Grade 9 English course and became one of those things I had forgotten all about until I stumbled upon it while cleaning out some old boxes. According to my ‘future self’, I had finished up high school, continued on to the University of Winnipeg where I studied and played five years of university basketball for the Wesmen, and then became a doctor. I was very happy and there were no indications of having found my university days – or my current ‘life as a doctor’ – stressful in the least. Yeah, right.
Fast-forward ten years – it’s a pretty different story. Yes, I played university basketball – but only for four years, and only three at the University of Winnipeg. Once I entered Grade 11 and struggled through both Chemistry and Physics, I threw the dream of being a doctor out the window. Ever since then – the question of ‘what will I do when I grow up’ has become an ugly cloud looming darker and darker, with every passing year. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find the answer to this question.
My career goals have ranged from becoming a journalist who investigates stories in developing countries – to teaching at a high school – to being a counsellor – to becoming a professor of history – to ‘I HAVE NO IDEA!’ – a lot, over my six years of university. After finally receiving my Honours B.A. degree a few weeks ago, I am still feeling quite unsure about where my future is headed.
I thought I was supposed to have this all figured out by now?
Last week I was at the University of Manitoba to sign up for my M.A. courses, and I met a woman who is completing her Ph.D. At first I thought – she’s doing exactly what I want to do! That's pretty awesome! But then I realized that her eyes were watering as she spoke with another student about how difficult it was to complete her thesis; the stresses of doctoral studies; the utter hopeless job market for history professors and; her struggle with deciding if she is willing to leave Winnipeg in order to pursue a career.
It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d heard of these problems – my parents and other professors have warned me of these issues many times (while still encouraging me to go for my Ph.D) - but in this moment reality hit so hard I literally had to sit down. I realized, sure - I can do my Masters and my Ph.D., but even if I do well there are absolutely no guarantees for job opportunities once I graduate (and it’s not as if completing a Ph.D would be an easy task). Moreover, I better be willing to move across the country – or perhaps even to a different country – if I want to find a job.
I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and disheartened by the time the Grad Studies Chair came into the room and called me into his office to sign up for my Masters courses. But as I sat and chatted with him, talking about the courses I had enjoyed during my undergrad and the courses I will be taking next fall, I found myself becoming increasingly excited about school again.
I love history, I love school, and I love teaching (and coaching). That may me a pretty huge nerd but I’m okay with it. So what am I going to do with the rest of my life? What am I going to do when I “grow up”? I'm not sure.
I don’t why we ask little kids what they want to be when they grow up - and expect high school students to choose their courses based on their future career - because it instills this assumption that usually by the end of high school, and certainly by the end of a university degree, you need to know exactly what you want to do with your life.
But maybe we don’t.
As someone who is constantly planning (I’m a pretty busy person – usually juggling around 3 or 4 part time jobs, coaching a team or two, playing on a team or two, and finding time for my friends and family - so I plan a lot… probably more than I need to) the prospect of an uncertain future used to terrify me. But I don’t think it should. I know I’m not ready to be done school yet, and I’m excited to start my M.A. I know from my internship that I enjoy working in the field of history, and there’s little doubt in my mind that that will change. But as for a career – I’m not sure. Maybe by the time I’m done my M.A. I’ll have figured things out, and if not – maybe I’ll track down that Ph.D. student and see how it worked out for her.