I love working with young people who are beginning to set foot into the wide world of work and higher education. Whether they are finishing high school or college or changing careers later in life, this kind of counseling is some of my favorite work to do. There’s so much potential! There’s so much opportunity! And yes, there’s so much anxiety, as well. One of the biggest questions many clients ask themselves is “Should I go to college?” Let’s examine this question in a way that helps alleviate some of the anxiety you may be feeling if you’re asking yourself this question.
Short Answer: It depends.
I’m married to a lawyer, and I have three more lawyers in my family. They like to joke that the answer to everything is “It depends.” I have to say that this is often true in the therapy world, too. It depends on a lot of things about you and your personal situation. Consider the following questions: 1) What do you want for yourself? Assuming that you are young, single, and/or free of responsibility for anyone but yourself, what do you want for you? What kind of career would you like to have? You may have to separate the messages you received from your parents or other authority figures about what you should do for a career to critically evaluate what you want to do. If you happen to have the responsibility of providing for others, then this is still an important question to consider. Investing time and money and attention into any pursuit that will lead to a happier set of circumstances for you will likely be better for everyone in your care.
2) Why do you want what you want? It’s OK to need a good “why”. It’s OK to be driven by a purpose and a cause that you believe in. After all, you’re going to have to be the one who slogs through difficult work tasks on days that you don’t want to show up at all. You and only you will be the one who experiences the setbacks and emotional discomfort and drudgery. Likewise, you and only you will be the one who enjoys the work and feels the creative release and satisfaction of a job well-done (or even just done). Many of us don’t know what kind of career we want until we know what kind of larger future we want. Maybe we want a family, or recognition, or accolades, or a sense that we’re fulfilling a greater need, or anything else at all. Chase it.
3) What if I don’t know what I want? Maybe you haven’t figured it out yet. Hear me - That’s perfectly OK! You don’t have to know what you want. You’ll figure it out in your time. I usually clarify for anxious clients that college never guarantees any future career, but it does guarantee more options and possibilities. Simply put, there’s a greater mathematical probability of finding career satisfaction when there are more careers available to you to choose from. With a college degree, you’ll have more options and can work more places. This doesn’t mean that you’ll certainly find a job you love just because you have the degree, though. If you want to be a welder, then by all means, go to a welding vocational program and be a welder. You’ll make a ton of money, carry very little debt, and be happy. The questions that we’re left with, then, is Do you have a general concept that you want to work in a skilled trade (i.e. fabricating, repairing, building, coding, etc)? And is your idea specific enough to pick a particular vocational program that will allow you the opportunities to do this? OR do you think you might want to do work in healthcare or the sciences or another field that requires college?
4) Am I responding to erroneous stigmas around the skilled trades? I’ve seen more than a few situations in which a person went to a college they didn’t want and wound up stuck in a job that they didn’t want, all because they felt that skilled trades were not prestigious enough. This is partly due to public schools and families pushing people to attend college above trade school over the past few decades. More people than ever have flooded institutions of higher learning, creating so much supply for the jobs they were pursuing that they greatly reduced the demand. I have a family member who worked in construction from the late 1970’s until today. Although he’s semi-retired, he was approached recently by a much younger local builder and offered a job for over $200K annually. The builder said he was desperate to find someone who could both interpret a set of construction plans and actually build the building with their own hands. This was the same work my family member had done for decent-but-not-great money his entire life. Today, however, the supply of skilled laborers is so limited that there’s much more money to be made! In short, the tables are turning in favor of the skilled trades. Be sure to do your research, though! Find a particular niche within your desired trade that you can make the highest income in. Then, see #5.
5) Do I want to start a business? If you’re mainly focused on financial stability in your career, you might consider starting a side-business. Most people in this situation go to school or work full time and develop a secondary, lucrative, “side hustle” over a couple of years. You may not need any kind of education at all to start a business (but, it helps). I’ve seen people create highly lucrative multi-six-figure incomes simply by beating the pavement enough and selling their wares. It takes strategy and planning and forethought (and business training helps), but it can be done. Above all, it seems to take diligence and determination. If you devote almost every spare moment to developing it, you can do it. It helps to know the needs of the market you are in. It also really helps to find a niche or specialty you can drill down into. In the skilled trades, this often means specializing in a certain kind of work or service that others aren’t doing or don’t know about yet. A little research here can be a valuable thing!
I hope this article helps you consider your options and reduces your anxiety around this topic. I also generally suggest a couple things for anyone who is neurodivergent: 1) If you have ADHD, you’ll likely benefit from pursuing a career that is interesting to you and also by making sure that you have enough structure around you to hold you accountable to get things done. You’ve got the superpower of creativity, so be ready for the Kryptonite of distraction. 2) If you are on the autism spectrum, you’ll likely benefit from a career that is not in service of the general public and does not expose you to distressing sensory triggers. Your super powers are logic and your specific areas of interest, so don’t get bogged down by social conflicts or sensory processing problems when you don’t have to. If you’d like to speak more about these things, please schedule an appointment! You can do so on my website at www.altmancounseling.com by clicking “Schedule Now”. You can also call me for a free brief consultation 770 615 6300. See you soon!