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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dear Mirror: How Does Everyone Have Their Whole Life Figured Out?

One writer muses on anxiety surrounding career prospects and planning for the future at Dartmouth.

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Dear Mirror,

I’m a ’25, and I feel like all of my friends have had their summer internships figured out for so long. Now, I’m seeing all of my ’26 friends get their investment banking jobs for next summer already. Whenever I talk to my friends, they seem to have the next ten years of their lives planned out. Meanwhile, I’m here still with no clue what I’m going to do this upcoming summer, let alone the rest of my life. How do people figure that out? I feel like everyone at Dartmouth has just got it sorted out, but I’m not sure how to get there.

Sincerely, 

Future Frazzled

Dear Future Frazzled,

A lot of Dartmouth students were probably known in high school as the kids who had their life together. They probably had their college list sorted out early, maintained good grades and did all of the right extracurriculars. On paper, they knew what they wanted their college years to look like. However, it’s all the more jarring then when they get to college, myself included, and suddenly it all goes out the window. They’re left wondering, ‘do I actually want to be pre-med, or did I just decide that one day and never looked back?’ It’s scary to be lost in life when it felt like just a few years ago, they knew everything.

I feel like just a few decades ago, people considered their early 20s as a time when they didn’t have to have everything figured out post-graduation. Some would experiment with different potential career paths, work the odd job and really get to the bottom of what they wanted to do with their lives. Maybe it’s just a byproduct of being at Dartmouth, but that period of exploration doesn’t feel like it exists anymore.

I know it may seem like everyone at Dartmouth has it sorted out – and I’m sure that some people actually do have a ten year plan in place. But I can assure you that the vast majority of people are just as uncertain as you are. They also wonder every so often if the choices they have made are the right ones, if they’re actually passionate about what they might have decided to do for the foreseeable future. For the most part, everyone is just as lost and confused as you are — it’s just that some people make a decision and commit themselves to it.

During freshman year, you still have some leeway as you adjust to the beginning of your college life. But when sophomore year hits, it feels like everyone’s life trajectory has been decided. These paths can seem like they fall exclusively into five categories: finance, consulting, tech, medicine or law. Once you decide on one of those trajectories, you theoretically could map the next few years of your life. You have an idea of what you have to do to prepare for these industries, what typical internships or post-grad entry level jobs look like. You have hundreds of alums that you can connect with who have gone down the exact same route, and you have pages upon pages of Center for Professional Development resources and support.

But what happens when you never pick a trajectory at all?

If you think about your life in the grand scheme of things, the answer is probably nothing consequential. If you decide that you want to go into law at age 19 versus at age 23, the difference in where you might end up at age 40 is probably not due to those few years difference.

If anything, it’s probably better to take those few years to explore, wander and try things out. Maybe even more than a few years – take all of your early 20s to explore like your parents might have been able to. That way, when you land on what you think you want to do, you’ll be all the more confident that it’s the right thing.

When you stop thinking about your job as the literal rest of your life but instead just as just a piece of it, I think that choosing a job or an industry becomes a whole lot easier. What career path you choose does not define who you are as a person or what your life will be like. It’s also not something that you’re committed to forever. A job is just a small fraction of your life — your life is also your friends, your family, your hobbies, your passions. 

Ultimately, you will figure it out. We all will. There is no magical recipe for figuring it out; there’s only your own personal journey and decisions. But you’ll get there.

Sincerely,

Mirror


Jessica Sun Li

Jessica Sun Li '24 is a sociology major and English minor from the suburbs of Chicago. She is currently the Arts editor, and her passion project is the "Dear Mirror" column. Outside of The Dartmouth, she is involved in the figure skating team and sociology research. She really wants to adopt a cat.