05/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

To Grad School Or Not? Part II

Dear Christine,

I have a good job and a well-balanced life, but I'm thinking about going for something bigger. Except what happens if I go to law school or med school and years from now I realize that the work is not fulfilling? I'm not worried about failing or financial security; but I am worried about sacrificing time. What is the way to make this decision?

Fearfully Indecisive, 26, Los Angeles

Dear Fearfully Indecisive,

So, you are asking me to look into my crystal ball and tell you that med or law school will absolutely pay off? Even if I could do that, I would not want to rob you of your own self-discovery. No one but you can make the choices that affect your future, so stop looking for someone else or something else to give you the answers. The first question you may consider asking yourself is "If I have a good job and a well-balanced life, why am I looking for more?" Find out what is missing in your life or what is coloring your perception of how your life should be, and how these elements are fueling your need for something bigger. Maybe what you have now is enough.

Penelope Trunk, career columnist at the Boston Globe and author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success offers the following expert advice: "You're going to law school or med school because you can't figure out what you love to do? HELLO!!! Adult life is about figuring out who you are and what you like to do. Life is a struggle to find enough self-knowledge to craft an interesting, fulfilling life, and the fact that we die is what makes things matter -- that we have only a limited about of time in this world to find self-knowledge. So why waste it going to grad school when you don't even know if you want to go to grad school? Be an adult and struggle to find out who you are. It's fine to not know what you want to do with yourself. It's not fine to give up trying because it's hard. There is a messed-up myth that the person who knows what path they are on is the person who is pulled together. But the people who can cope with not knowing are the people who are really living. The people who have enough self-respect to be lost while they learn about themselves are the people who find out what they love and who they are and what in this world is fulfilling to them. Life is hard. At some point, life has to stop being about getting good grades. Here's a message to everyone thinking of going to grad school because finding out what they love is too hard: Grow up."

In your journey of discovery, you may find jobs that leave you dissatisfied, but that experience is not a wasted one. Perhaps the field you are in is the right path for you, but you need to find a new job with the qualities you want. Or maybe there are more responsibilities you can ask to take on that will tap into your strengths. Or your self searching may lead you to a field entirely unexpected. Right now, ask yourself, what will you gain by staying where you are? And what will you lose?

You say you don't fear failure, but I sense that you do fear failing yourself and your perceived potential. Time does pass more quickly than we think, but you have years in which to explore and ultimately arrive where you were meant to be. Make decisions based on self-discovery, rather than expectations. And remember, your full potential is not realized in your career. Focus on living your best life instead of searching for a job to give you a great life. Dare to explore, to dream, and to discover, and then at least you can look forward with purpose and not look back with regret.


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