Confidently lost: feeling better about being unsure

  • October 15, 2018
  • By WashU Olin Business School
  • 3 minute read

Melissa Guo, BSBA ’21, posted this on behalf of Bear Studios.

Melissa Guo
Melissa Guo

Sometimes, the hardest part of college is being stuck in the limbo of not knowing which of many paths to take or passions to focus on. It is the pressure of making the “right choice” and not letting ourselves succumb to the “what if”s that follow.

Deciding on which interests to single out and transform into a career path is often difficult, given the limited exposure to different fields we have as college students and our general inability to decide on what we want.

And it can be daunting to feel lost and confused, especially because we tend to focus on the classmates who seem to have it all figured out. So, does being unsure of what we want really demand additional stress or signal falling behind in career development?

Not necessarily.

Being unsure is more than OK. In fact, it’s normal.

It is so normal that research from Pennsylvania State University shows that 50 percent of college students go into college undecided, and 75 percent will change their major at least once during their four years at a university.

With this in mind, we should focus on ways to make the career searching process seem less stressful.

Kill two birds with one stone

I have been an artist since I was 7, a debater since maybe before then. But the one thing that I have always wanted was to start my own business. At times, these interests intersect or make room for each other so it is possible to spend a few hours pursuing each. Yet most days, it is only practical to invest in a few.

To avoid burning out early, investing in activities that encourage exploring multiple interests at once is ideal. I joined Bear Studios, a student-run consulting firm that works with local St. Louis startups, as a design fellow. I found an intersection between business and the creative fields. I was able to test how to apply the concepts I learned in my art and design courses against a potential interest in business consulting.

Similar opportunities are provided by clubs like Beat Therapy, which combines interests in music and community service, or Engineers Without Borders, which focuses on both engineering and sustainability.

Putting in the time to find activities that cater to more than one interest is a great way to maximize exposure to different fields simultaneously.

Build self-awareness

When we focus so much of our time and efforts on understanding each career path, we are in danger of forgetting to spend time understanding ourselves.

Recently, Olin integrated a career aptitude test into the BSBA curriculum. The results are geared towards finding personal strengths and weaknesses in the workplace, as well as key personality traits, helping to match students with jobs that will not only play to their strengths but also be enjoyable to them. Similarly, reflecting on day-to-day habits, activities, and interests to truly understand which elements continue to drive us forward is instrumental in getting a better grasp of which career paths are suitable

To be sure which careers are the right fit or not requires a level of self-awareness that can only be built up over time.

Keep things in perspective

It is important to keep in mind that we are not alone in our struggles. Pulse surveys this year have shown that 79 percent of WashU students report feeling more stressed than their peers, which sheds light on how we tend to underestimate our abilities when comparing ourselves to others.

Developing the ability to keep things in perspective—truly understanding that there are so many others around us with the same insecurities—takes practice, but can eventually lead to having greater confidence in ourselves and the paths we choose in the future.

As long as we actively seek to be open-minded about potential career paths or interests, engage in activities that allow us to explore multiple interests, and spend more time trying to understand ourselves, figuring out what we want to pursue in life becomes a lot less daunting.

Pictured above: Melissa with two co-owners of Bears Bikes, a student-owned business on Washington University’s campus. Melissa aptly keeping things in perspective by trying her hand at exploring all of her interests to keep things in perspectives.

About the Author

Washington University in Saint Louis

WashU Olin Business School

Firmly established at the Gateway to the West, Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis stands as the gateway to something far grander in scale. The education we deliver prepares our students to thoughtfully make difficult decisions—the kind that can change the world.

Contact Us

For assistance in finding faculty experts, please contact Washington University Public Affairs.

Monday–Friday, 8:30 to 5 p.m.

Sara Savat, Senior News Director, Business and Social Sciences


Kurt Greenbaum,
Communications Director

Twitter: WUSTLnews