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Columnist Megan Hellman details a plan to find a major for those who do not have a driving passion. 

Growing up, we’re asked over and over again, “What do you want to be when you’re older?” Some kids' answers never change — maybe doctor or teacher or singer — but for others, the answer isn’t always clear. They may not have one clear passion in their life, making the path to prosperity and success much more confusing.

Passions are great for people who have them, but if you don’t have one or don’t know what it is yet, selecting a major can be very overwhelming. If you find yourself in that situation — knowing you’re going to be in college or you're already there but don’t know what you want to study, that’s OK!

It’s not unusual if you haven’t had the lifelong dream of becoming a microbiologist or accountant. The expectation is you have figured out the direction you want your life to take by the time you graduate high school, but reality is quite the opposite for many of us.

Don’t waste your time taking “Find the perfect major for you” tests online (don’t worry, I’ve been there too) or trying to appease all of your relatives' and friends' advice on what you should study. In the end, taking in everyone’s opinion may leave you more confused than before.

Fortunately, it turns out you don’t need a burning passion to find happiness and success! However, you do need to organize your thoughts in order to find a little more clarity. Making a list of your skills and talents, likes and interests will help provide a foundation to your future decisions. You should also write down any restrictions or obstacles you face, such as financial, geographical, behavioral, racial or physical. This helps bring a realistic sense into the picture so your path does not get severely roadblocked by your restrictions in life. For the final touch, it’s helpful to include what I call the “50-year test.”

This is a list of the aspects in life — not necessarily only involving your education — you want to be most important to you 50 years from now. This can also work in reverse, where you go through different aspects of majors or jobs and ask yourself if that will matter to you in 50 years.

For example, aspects in my life I want to matter to me in 50 years are financial stability, family and friends, sustainable living, health, leadership, activism and so on. These may seem basic or broad, but you can be as specific as you wish, but know specific goals may change over time. This helps to set a vision for your future and place your job into it accordingly.

Then, you can comb through this list and find overlap in your skills and interests that fit within job fields or majors. You can do this several times too in order to find consistency within your answers. Then, if there are any aspects in life that have not been fulfilled, these can help decide your extracurriculars or hobbies. Your major or job does not have to supply all sources of your happiness.

After organizing your thoughts, you hopefully will see your happiness will not be dependent on one job. Your major is important, but as long as you have skills or talents in that field and an interest in learning more about it, you will find success in your life, regardless of having a longtime passion or not.

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Megan Hellman is a sophomore in biological systems engineering.

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(2) comments

Steve Gregg

If you are majoring in a STEM field, you will probably be working that field or something close to it for the next twenty years. Of course, unexpected opportunities arise which you are sometimes compelled to pursue. So, everyone in STEM pinballs a bit.

If you major in the humanities, it's completely different because most of these majors do not lead to a job. A history or psychology or sociology major is not going to get a job in their fields. Basically, their degree is a reading and writing degree with some assurance to employers that you can complete assignments given to you.

For those humanity majors, the job you get at graduation will be random, a basic paper pusher at some company. The odds are that you will change industries at least once before you are thirty.

My strong advice is to find a career that has lots of rules, which take you decades to learn. Accounting and computer science are good examples. You want to steadily learn those rules so that college kids who follow you can not replace you easily. You want to build a fort of knowledge and experience around you that can not easily be learned by rookies.

It is the best practice to train a back up for your job. I would avoid doing that. Too often, if you have trained a replacement to take your place, companies will push you out when you get too expensive and put the cheap replacement in your job. Companies have no loyalty to you. You are just a unit of labor to them. If the numbers on a ledger sheet show it's cheaper to replace you, out you go on the street.

Consequently, you should organize your work over the years so that you produce value for the company and also so that it would be painful to lay you off.

Zuzeca Sape

Good advice, Ms. Hellman.

I would add, there's nothing wrong with taking a break between high school and college (or even somewhere along your college path). In fact, I highly recommend it.

Feeling pressured to choose a major? Who says you have to choose right now? Join the Peace Corps, join the Army, do volunteer work, get a regular job, etc. There's nothing that says you have to go straight from high school to college or complete each college year without interruption. College isn't high school. You're an adult now. You're allowed to take a break. You're allowed to f- off and grow weed in Colorado or learn about politics as a Congressional intern. Spread your wings a little and taste freedom before you're pushed out of the academic nest with no idea how life outside school works.

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