As an undergraduate at the turn of the millennium, I subscribed to a sentiment shared by many friends, faculty advisors, and fellow students: “Pursue your passions and let them guide your career. Happiness will follow.”
I’d enjoyed writing for my high school newspaper, so when I entered college I decided to study journalism. Four years later, I graduated and happily worked as a writer and editor for several years. At that time, the sentiment rang true. I followed my passion, and got a job that I loved. It was the roaring 2000s. The economy was good. Life was good. Then the Great Recession hit.
Right before the economic collapse, I started working at a science society as a part-time editorial assistant. Needing financial security, I took a promotion and began working full time organizing technical conferences. I was lucky to have a job, no doubt, and I loved where I worked. But my job afforded no writing opportunities. I satiated my desire to write through freelance work, yet I still craved a full-time position that was more aligned with my passions and educational training. Within a few short years, I was unhappy and felt like I needed to refocus; to somehow reboot my career.
If you’re reading this, you might feel how I did back then. You’re unsatisfied with your job. Somewhere along the line, your passions became misaligned with your work, maybe as a result of the recession. This isn’t uncommon, as, a study by the Pew Research Center shows that a bad economy is the top reason why people end up working a job unrelated to their major in college. Or maybe you found a lucrative job after college but it wasn’t related to your major, or you didn’t pursue a major aligned with what makes you happy in the first place. Whatever your reasons for feeling unsatisfied, your current job situation doesn’t have to keep you from pursuing your passions. Your career just needs a jolt.
There are a variety of ways you can reboot your career, but I found that graduate school can be exceptionally helpful in this regard. By enrolling in a certificate, master’s or Ph.D. program you can really focus on building your expertise. By deepening your knowledge and sharpening your skills, you come out of your program more equipped to refocus your career, or enter a new field altogether (although I strongly suggest you consider the education and experience you already have before striking out on a different path). In grad school, you’ll connect with people in your field — fellow students and faculty members— who can help you network and land a job. You’ll also feel rejuvenated, immersed in studies that tap into your passions and goals.
To realign my career, I went back to graduate school at Colorado State University and earned a master’s degree through the journalism department. Returning to school got me back on track in my preferred field as a writer and editor. I also gained new skills to better create and manage online publications, such as websites, social media and email—all tools in their infancy, or completely nonexistent, when I was an undergrad. Grad school rebooted my career and it can do the same for you, too.
I can’t guarantee that a graduate degree will bring you happiness, but research shows that those with a graduate degree make more money and are more likely to be in a career-track job instead of something just to get by. Research aside, going to a job every day that taps into your passions — what makes you happy — will feel a lot less like work and be a lot more fulfilling.
Are you ready to reboot your career? Start exploring your options to see if a graduate degree is right for you.