Knowing Your “Why” & Exploring Your Passion | College Student Professional Development

“Why are you majoring in communications?”

“So, you’re premed? What made you want to become a doctor?”

“Why elementary ed?”

“Why photography?”

“Why sign language interpreting?”

College students get asked these types of questions A LOT. Everyone wants to know why we chose our major or future career.

And so, when people ask this question, we feel like we have to have an answer.

And, more often than not, that answer is:

“I want to help people”

Now, I’m going to call it out: “I want to help people” is not enough.

“I want to help people” is a cop-out answer.

Why is it a cop-out answer?

We as humans are incredibly altruistic. We LOVE to help people. We feel great when we hold open a door for someone, or perform a favor for a friend or coworker.

Now, almost every single job has “helping people” in the job description, either directly (nurse, therapist), or indirectly (software engineer, construction worker).

So, if you can “help people” as a Walmart greeter, a park ranger, a hair stylist, phlebotomist, a college professor, engineer, or therapist:

WHY did you choose the specific major or profession that you chose?

Did that question make you squirm a little? There are so many reasons why college students are antsy when answering the “WHY” question.

Reason #1: You Aren’t Exactly Sure What You Want To Do Yet, so you hide behind your vague WHY.

Everyone has that ONE classmate, right?

That one classmate who shows up on the first day of freshman orientation, happily telling anyone who will listen that they’ve chosen to major in ____, that they had a high school internship in ____, just started a lucrative and high-paying part-time job in ____, and they can’t wait to graduate a year early and go to grad school so that they can become a ____ and work in ____ field doing ____.

Good, I’m glad it’s not just me who knows these people.

Not EVERYONE knows what they want to do. And even the people who say that they know what they want to do…plans change, interests shift.

Changing your mind, learning more about yourself, realizing what makes you happy…these are GREAT things!

I, for example, because I loved cooking, I thought I wanted to work in food service as a recipe developer for restaurants.

Guess what…

I’ve discovered that food service and restaurant work is NOT where my professional interests are, even though I still LOVE to cook!

It’s okay that you don’t have a completely fleshed out, detailed, intricate, 10 year plan for your WHY.

But it is important to stop giving the cop out answer and start digging deeper.

  • You want to help people? Help them with WHAT? HOW do you want do help them?
  • You want to teach people? Teach them WHAT? WHERE do you want to teach them?
  • You love science? Which field of science? What projects do you love to work on?

Reason #2: Your chosen major and your interests aren’t a perfect match, and it makes you uncomfortable.

Fun fact about me: I used to want to become a doctor.

I would, in fact, tell people that I wanted to become a doctor because I liked healthcare and I wanted to “help people.”

But, when I got into high school and started thinking about what I actually wanted to do with my life, I realized that what doctors do, and what I was interested in, didn’t match.

  • Doctors go to school for a bajillion years. I did not want to go to a bajillion years of school.
  • Doctors study LOTS of hard sciences like biology, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, and more. I struggle a lot with those types of classes.
  • Doctors deliver babies, perform surgery and exams, read scans and lab results, make diagnoses, and recommend medications and treatments, save lives. I don’t want to do any of that stuff.

What doctors study and do on a daily basis to help people did not line up with what I wanted to study or do on a daily basis to help people.

I didn’t have a good WHY because I didn’t actually want to become a doctor.

If this sounds you, now might be the time to think about what it is that you ACTUALLY want.

If you’re planning to become an accountant but you HATE spreadsheets and sitting in an office…are there accounting jobs that avoid Excel and let you be out and about? Or maybe there’s another similar career related to math and money that would be a better fit?

If you’ve been telling people your whole life that you want to be an engineer, but now that you’re actually in those classes you realize that you’d rather…not? That’s okay! Keep thinking about what it is that drew you to engineering (Science? Building stuff? Having a good paycheck?) go from there.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself.

  • What kind of work environment do I like? Big, small, working from home, office work?
  • Do I like working directly with people? Would I prefer to be behind the scenes?
  • What does someone in this field do on typical a day in the life? Is this what I want to be doing?
  • Where do people in this profession typically work? Do you want to work there?
  • If my major is in Field A, but my part-time job, extracurriculars, and volunteering are all in Field B, is it possible that I would rather work in Field B?

Reason #3: You fear being judged for choosing something you love. Avoiding your WHY is protecting you from judgement.

Fear of judgement is real.

Maybe you love a particular, niche area of research and you’d love to earn your Ph.D in this field, despite the fact that it takes 20 minutes to explain to your aunt at Thanksgiving what you want to do.

Maybe you’re really interested in apprenticing to becoming a mechanic, a carpenter, or a specialty craftsman, even though all of your friends are going to college together.

Maybe you’d love to become an entrepreneur and start a business selling your social media management services to small businesses, even though your parents want you to have a corporate marketing job.

Fear of judgement is so real. But that CANNOT stop us from doing the work on ourselves.

We have to dig deep to explore our WHY, even when that WHY might be constantly changing.

Here more of my thoughts about “Exploring Your Why” in This Episode of Feed That Nation!

Natalie Nation

Hi there! Welcome to Feed That Nation!

My name is Natalie Nation. I’m a graduate student, future registered dietitian, health educator, content creator, and a self-proclaimed mac and cheese expert!

Feed That Nation is a space to talk all things health and college life. I want to help college students to be confident, successful, and healthy in their college experience!

Follow me on Instagram, watch me on YouTube, and check out my podcast!

Minnesota-based grad student, future RD, educator, content creator, and mac and cheese expert! Natalie is currently a Masters of Public Health student and dietetic intern at the University of Minnesota, and is on-track to becoming a registered dietitian-nutritionist. She earned her bachelor's degree in Dietetics in 2019 from St. Catherine University.

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