By Amy Quinde
“Follow your heart.” “Pursue your passion.” “Do what’s in your heart.” You probably hear this often, from your friends and family, your teachers, even the media. In your heart, even if you’re very young, you tend to know what makes you happy. You may even know what your passion is. Yet, at the same time, you’re getting mixed messages. People very close to you simultaneously stress the importance of choosing a well-informed life path that makes sense in today’s world, finding a career that pays well and is in high demand, and attending a university that is well-respected and doesn’t leave you and your family saddled with debt. A rational choice is best, they say. You may also not know yet what you truly want and like, and how these preferences would fit into what the world offers or provide a good standard of living.
Life wisdom often leads to this truth: life choices based solely on pure passion OR what simply “makes the most logical sense» can lead to regret. Ideally, they fuse both! In fact, psychotherapists say that the best course of action a person can take is one at the intersection of your feelings and your rational thoughts. For example, this could be applied when choosing the right person to marry. You may be head-over-heels in love with a party-loving alcoholic who can’t seem to keep a job, but you know he wouldn’t make a responsible father. It’s best to find someone whose lifestyle, life, and financial goals match yours, whom you also love. The same goes for making a decision about a career. To use the cliche of basket-weaving, you may love doing it, but the chances are it will not lead to a viable career in modern times (unless you can figure out a way to monetize it via your own business). There is usually a solution, but it needs to come from a passionate place— and that passion needs to be shaped by a logical solution.
In many cases, parents and students alike use emotion more than anything to drive their college and career decisions— even financial ones. Picking the right college, the right major, or the right classes is a challenge because students and parents lack the basic tools to make logical comparisons between options. For example, colleges today want to hook prospective students on feelings first in hopes that they will enroll at any cost, no matter how high it is. Yet, weighing potential college debt against practical concerns like potential earnings is a calculation few families seem to make during the process. As a result, students make selections based on a fuzzy concept called «fit,» using haphazard suggestions from peers and magazines, misguided advice from uninformed advisors, personal biases about the college, and the marketing-inspired «dog and pony show» they experience on college visits. Too often the reason students make such choices, according to William Bowen, author of Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities, is some «combination of inertia, lack of information, lack of forward planning for college, and lack of encouragement.» At the same time, parents are increasingly understanding the importance of college value and getting a return on their money. Consequently, they tend to push their child into a lucrative career at a high-status school when neither the career nor the school is an authentic fit. All formulas set the student up for less-than-ideal outcomes.
Katherine Orr, a children’s book author, wrote, «A good education will make you free to choose in life what you will. But always remember this: the head was meant to serve the heart, not the other way around.» It’s crucial for students to understand themselves better so that they can make an informed decision that incorporates both their head (intellect, logic, reason, information, practicality, something that could lead to a well-paying career) and their heart (what they love, their passion, what truly makes them happy).