If you are finding it difficult deciding whether you should revise chapter six of Applied Statistics or drop everything and pursue your dream of becoming a deep-sea photographer, you are not alone.
A study by the National Centre for Education Statistics in the United States found that 80% of students change their major (the equivalent of our degree) in college. Furthermore, college students change majors an average of four times over the course of their studies.
“Many students are unsure about whether or not they are studying the right thing,” says Liana Kruger, an educational psychologist at Student Support on Main campus. According to Kruger, many students choose a degree before knowing exactly what it entails. The course turns out not to be what the student expected, says Kruger, or their interests change as they gain life experience and are exposed to new things. It is very important to look at what stage of their life a student is in, says Kruger.
She also says that Student Support looks at various point-in-time tests, like aptitude and interest questionnaires, and even conduct interviews with students before they consider advising them to change their course of study. “To change your course isn’t always the best idea, especially not if there are other personal factors motivating your decision,” she said.
“I think it’s been a problem young people have struggled with for centuries,” says movie producer Piet de Jager about students’ concerns about choosing the right degree for them. De Jager has made a name for himself in the Afrikaans film industry with movies such as Verraiers, Roepman and Stargazers. Producing has always been his dream and De Jager admits that it would not have been possible if he had not stuck it out and got his law degree. He is still practicing as an attorney in order to fund his passion. He says that once you know something isn’t for you, it makes no sense to continue pursuing it. He adds, however, that the value of a degree can never be overstated. “Studying an extra three years for another degree once you’ve finished one is nothing in the context of 60 to 70 years,” says De Jager
Fred Nagel is a first-year architecture student at Tuks. After studying sound engineering and working for two years, he made the tough decision to start over again. “It’s a weird feeling. Most of my friends have already started working and are making money, and here I am a first-year again.”
For Nagel, sound engineering was the four year gap he needed to find out what he really wanted to do with his life. He says he has a real passion for innovation and creating, and architecture allows him to put his talents and energy into this. Making the move was not an easy decision for him. He had to bid farewell to his band, Monkeys in Boots, to focus on his studies. “It is every boy’s dream, I think, to be a rock star one day, but in South Africa there is just no way to make a living from music,” says Nagel. Working people don’t seem to have a better idea of what they want to do for the rest of their lives. According to a study by the Bureau of Labour Statistics in the US, people change jobs on average 11.3 times before the age of 54. In 2009 they also found that people will have had up to seven distinctly different careers by the time they reach retirement.
Despite the willingness to change your course or career, there are twice as many people across the globe who are unhappy and “actively disengaged” at work compared to those who are “engaged”, passionate and drive innovation in their workplace, says opinion poll company Gallup in their State of the Global Workplace Report 2013.
In South Africa, only 9% of people really love their job, while 45% are severely negative about their jobs and likely to spread that negativity to co-workers, says the report. The remaining 46% are “checked out”, putting little effort into their work. People who had tertiary education are a little happier, with 16% of South African graduates engaged at their workplace, while only 18% “roam the halls spreading discontent”, as Gallup CEO Jim Clifton puts it in the report.
In the TED talk The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz explains the phenomenon that more choice actually makes us unhappy. The fact that there are so many degrees and careers to pursue is actually paralysing, says Schwartz, because if you chose wrong in this day and age, it is your fault. In the past, society could be blamed for not offering degrees in the field you were interested in. Now, however, the burden of choice falls squarely upon your shoulders. The opportunities you associate with the options you gave up seem to far outweigh the benefits of the career or degree you chose. No sooner have you made a choice than you start wondering if a different career might have suited you better.
A quote by author Maya Angelou, “If you can’t change your circumstances, change your attitude,” might be rephrased. If you change your attitude toward your job and your studies, perhaps it won’t be necessary to change your circumstances as often.
Illustration: Brandon Dlamini.