What to do with my life?
November 23, 2013 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm at a crossroads, and I want to figure out a few things: a) What I can do with my interests, in the long run. b) What I need to do in order to achieve my goals. c) Whether I should start undergrad next year. d) What I should do with the next year of my life if I don't start undergrad next year. Long details inside, but if you have a personal story of how you handled these decisions that has nothing to do with my special-snowflakeyness, I'd love to hear it, too.

TL;DR - the main questions are down below.

I'll go over the basics: 22yo female, living in Israel. Just out of 4 intense years in the army. Next week I'll be taking the Israeli SATs, probably with a good enough outcome for anything I'm interested in studying. I was kind of a fuck-up in high school so I don't have a complete diploma, but I can retake a few exams and complete the requirements in July-Aug.
I am having a hard time narrowing my interests. Primarily, I'm interested in education - I was a scout leader, a counsellor of autistic youth and a counsellor at a gay youth centre, as well as a commander in the army. I get great satisfaction from teaching and guiding people. I'm also interested in society, in a broad sense - politics and government fascinate me (particularly in Israel where it's so out of whack), as well as sociology. I'm interested in the way people think and form ideas, so I guess that would be categorised as psychology and philosophy, and maybe even linguistics.
I don't know where I see myself 5 or 10 years down the line, when I think of "what I want to be when I grow up" - but a lot of what I want to do has to do with working with youth and maybe even teaching.
I want to dedicate my life to making things better, because I want to believe Israel can be a better nation - more equal, less corrupt, less militant - and I believe in good education and good politics as key to achieving this. I want to do this in the long run, somehow, but I also want to start small now.

My plans for the next 8 months of my life include completing my SATs, 4 months of backpacking in central America, and then completing my high school diploma - the first and third are mandatory for higher education in Israel, and the backpacking - well, that's a dream. I'm also going to be volunteering a few times a month at an LGBT organisation that gives talks at public schools.

My options: enrolment for universities starts in April - I will not be able to enrol because I won't have my diploma by then. Some programs have late enrolment options, but I can't predict which will because it depends on how much demand there is for that program. My dream is an interdisciplinary program at Tel Aviv University, but it is a very elite program and chances of late enrolment are slim.

So I can wait it out until the fall of 2015 and have a much better chance of being accepted into a program of my interest, or start studying in whatever undergrad program I can get into in 2014 and then reevaluate a year later if I want to switch programs.
Or I can choose to take another gap year to do... what? I want to stay in Israel, I'm pretty sure 4 months is enough backpacking for me and I'm not interested in any overseas programs (teaching/volunteering abroad, etc).

My questions:
1. What programs should I be interested in? What does higher education have to offer that I'm not yet aware of?
2. Should I start studying in a second or third choice program for my first year, and then switch out later?
3. If not, what should I do during this second gap year, if I have no more requirements to fill?
posted by alon to Education (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would start undergrad and go as general as you can (if that's an option where you are). Let the courses you take and the people you meet and the experiences you have shape the direction of the next part of your life. You don't have to choose immediately, and most of us wind up somewhere different than we expected at the beginning of school.
posted by xingcat at 8:30 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Totally agree with xingcat here. You need not have well-defined interests at this point in your life - and in fact, I would encourage you to remain open to a variety of subjects for as long as possible.

To answer your questions:

1. What programs should I be interested in? What does higher education have to offer that I'm not yet aware of?
2. Should I start studying in a second or third choice program for my first year, and then switch out later?
3. If not, what should I do during this second gap year, if I have no more requirements to fill?

1. I don't think there's anything you "should" be interested in. In my opinion the best part of undergrad is exposure to subjects that you haven't even dreamed of, or have thought only a little about before. My suggestion would be to find a program with a diverse offering of courses at a school that you'd be happy to attend, and go from there.

2. This is a very good idea (although you may find that you like the second- or third- choice school so much you don't want to switch after your first year).

3. This is also a good idea, but I'd say to only take the gap year if you have specific plans for it. I'd think about volunteering more with the LBGT organization and/or other organizations that are working to improve things in Israel during your year off. This is great because it improves your resume and (more importantly) gives you a better idea of the subjects and types of work that interest you.

Good luck!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:43 AM on November 23, 2013

One of my high school teachers suggested something a bit like #2. What he actually said was "Get accepted somewhere and go for a year, then take a gap year if you want with someplace to come back to." I did leave after the first year and I did wind up somewhere else, but having a school to go back to meant being able to apply other places yet not have anxiety about it permeate the gap year. Which turned into two years for me, as it happened. I felt like that was a really good plan.

Good luck!
posted by BibiRose at 8:59 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll just say this. I don't know anyone successful or happy who aimed, in a straight line, for the position they're currently in. It was all unexpected twists and serendipity. Trying to "figure out what to do with your life" is mostly an exercise in idle daydreaming. One thing's for sure: if you figure it out, that's probably not how it's going to actually happen, anyway. You're not necessarily in control of this ship and its trajectory.

Your free will enters in your resourceful, bright-eyed ability to seize opportunities, sort of like a monkey swinging from vine to vine. Stay open and alert enough that you always spot interesting side routes as they appear. Don't be so "directed" by your mental notions of how you want it to go that you miss surprising but apt jag as they open up.

I'm not suggesting you sit still and wait for the winds to direct you. In these situations, I like to go into "opportunity gathering" mode. I make contact with everyone I know. Old friendships that have fizzled, I reignite. People I haven't called in a while, I call. And I talk to strangers. Talk about your situation, ask for suggestions. Be out of the house all day, interacting with lots of different scenes. It doesn't all have to be career/future oriented. Just gather connections, and, again, keep eyes wide open even for the unexpected and serendipitous. Stay busy and talk a lot to many different people in many places and walks of life. If you're introverted, this isn't the time to indulge that preference!

Your posting was a good example. But just remember that it's hard to shoot your destiny from point A to point B through sheer will (unless you have a super concrete goal - e.g. med school - in which case it is, indeed, brute force. But you don't appear to be one of those people, with a super focused goal). You can only notice and seize opportunities as they arise, and they will often surprise you. Delight in the surprise, and enjoy the journey, and the destination will work out (sounds cliched, I know, but cliches arise for a reason!).
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:52 AM on November 23, 2013

I'm not sure how your credentials need to be ordered, but I believe that getting your high-school diploma out of the way ought to be a priority.

I'm impressed by your travel plans. I can't underscore enough how valuable that sort of adventure can be. I'm also impressed with your background, and believe that you are in a perfect place to benefit from a bit of free time. Maybe you could benefit by extending your travels to Asia.

It seems to me that your training and interests cover a broad sector--enough so that it's not necessary, right now, to try to envision a straight line path to a long-term career. On the other hand, it would be wise to notice whether certain doors will close if you don't tend them: for example, I presume you aren't interested in a military career, but if you were, what would happen if you take a hiatus of several years right now?

In my case, after 8 years of military service I entered university for 5 years, but abandoned my field of study to pursue other interests. I seemed to have re-invented myself every 10 years or so. I'm not unsatisfied with the trajectory my life took, because I have a great storehouse of memories...things that a nine-to-fiver would not have been able to do. But I look back with some bemusement on other things that I might have done if I'd not shifted my energies the way I had. The bottom line is that, when you get around to enjoying your dotage, you'll probably regret more those thing you didn't do than any mistakes you may have committed.

Too many trails, not enough time to see them all.

I contemplate your coming adventures with no small sense of envy.
posted by mule98J at 10:58 AM on November 23, 2013

Don't sabotage yourself by applying to your top choice in a manner/time that gives you worse odds for getting in! Use the time after your return from backpacking and getting the high school stuff taken care of to continue to volunteer, travel, work, take some classes in things you *think* you're not interested in (e.g. modern dance! Obscure language! Portrait painting!) if you can do that for free/cheap, and just explore. Maybe do some WWOOFing?

As for choosing a field of interest: very few of the people I started university with who came in with a precise idea of what they wanted to study ended up specializing in that. I knew people who came in going "I'm gonna be pre-med!" and who ended up majoring in geology and philosophy. Likewise, my friend who was a phil major is now a nurse practitioner.
posted by rtha at 1:21 PM on November 23, 2013

I think you have answered your own question. What to do with your life? You want to teach others, you have a general interest (people: be it politics, sociology, psychology or philosophy), you even have a short term plan with options sketched out too. That is more than most other people have their whole lives, so congratulations.

Don't sweat the details right now. Is your over-planning a symptom of the last four year intensity? I'd take that extra year out to expose yourself to all angles of life, go volunteer in schools, challenge yourself, get a grip on what specific part of your general interest you want to focus on. A year isn't forever and it may turn out to be the most important year in solidifying your path. If you can do things in the year that would help your acceptance to the elite program then that would be perfect. If the course is your dream then contact them, they may have open days or inductions where you can show your face and get a good feel of the course. Good luck.
posted by 0 answers at 2:27 PM on November 23, 2013

« Older To DHA or not DHA when pregnant?   |   Hourly contract rate for SQL in the UK? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.