If you really think about it, you kind of need to know what you want to do for the rest of your life by the time you're a senior in high school -- at 17 years old. Your brain is not even fully developed, but hey, go ahead and make a decision that will impact the majority of your adult life, like until you're 67 (The retirement age is going up apparently!).
I needed to decide on a career because the college I chose was tied to that decision. At 17 years old, I was really, really smart (I mean I definitely knew more than I know now because what teenager doesn't?), and I made the wise, mature decision to become an accountant because I loved my accounting class in high school (yes, I willingly took accounting and advanced accounting as elective classes).
The College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign seemed like the natural choice. I applied right into the business school and right away decided to double major in Accounting and Finance. By the beginning of sophomore year (age 19), I got to attend the Deloitte National Leadership Conference. I had to choose audit or tax for the conference. I hadn't even taken an audit or tax class yet, but I chose tax (because why not). After the conference, I changed my mind (because that is what 20-year-olds do).
The summer after my junior year, I interned in audit, and I had a full-time offer waiting for me going into senior year. That's the dream, right? A job waiting for me, and my future decided? I knew I was a lucky 21-year-old.
Here's the thing though -- I really enjoyed all my classes senior year. I took all the fun finance classes like entrepreneurship, wealth management and real estate; then I panicked. Had I made a mistake?
But I decided I was going to be an accountant in high school and it really seemed like a stable, good plan, so I stuck with it.
Long story short (kind of), I now work for a tech start-up that turns data into natural language (as if a human wrote it) in a matter of seconds, using our software, Quill. Today, I spend a lot of time looking at data, working with our clients, and configuring our software. Let's just call it very, very far from textbook accounting and finance.
My point is that there are so many different directions a career can go. Some people veer off their path in college and change their major; some veer off after their first job; and some even change careers mid-career (Victoria Beckham anyone?).
I know I made my "career decision" nine years ago, but I recently went through the experience again -- through my sister. Now she's a lot more thorough than I, so she spent all summer researching different majors (because everything online is true), shadowing different professionals (because every day is the same), and talking to all our family members (because apparently we have all the answers). We always look for answers from any possible source, but usually it comes to you from an unlikely one -- yourself.
She came to me with the question of "when I was little, what did you see me doing as a career?" I replied, "first of all, you're still little. Second of all, I thought you'd be some sort of engineer."
She loved taking things apart and putting them back together. She was more interested in the parts than she was in the whole. She took that as helpful feedback and decided she would double major in CS and Statistics. I'm glad she took my advice.
Well, I just talked to her the other day, and after her first week back at school, she decided that was a hard no, and that she wants to become a physician's assistant. I told her that was great and I supported her; the reality is that is the only thing I really can do. I said that she doesn't need to have it all figured out right now or even soon. She's quite familiar with my winding path and she finds comfort in it. If my path helps even one person, that's really enough for me.
I will always second-guess decisions. I will always analyze my choices. I'll always wonder "what if." That's just human. And even though it wasn't a straight, perfectly paved brick road for me, I still ended up in the right place at the right time. And all my work experience preceding my current role has helped me get there -- I just didn't know it at the time.