Determine Your Future by Investigating Your Past

Many Americans spend too much of their present worrying about their future. For college students, this anxiety often manifests itself in fears about choosing the wrong major or pursuing the wrong career goals. They are convinced that they need to select the "right" course of study and the "right" occupation as soon as possible. What's interesting is that it's relatively easy to declare an academic major and a career path. The problem is, how can one be sure that these are the right selections? People don't just want options, they want to feel a sense of confidence in the choices they make.

If you are looking to increase your confidence in your major or career choices, here's a suggestion that might help you determine your future. Look back at your past. And when I mean past, I don't just mean your childhood. It's not a bad idea to ask a deciding student what types of activities and books they were drawn to as a kid. For example, they may recall that when they were young they loved watching Bob the Builder and learning about how houses are constructed. Perhaps this prepubescent fascination hints at an innate interest in construction, architecture, or engineering? This is interesting, and perhaps helpful. But my suggestion about looking back into the past, encourages an even deeper look.

I'm suggesting deciding students should learn about their grandparents and great-grandparents. If it's possible, discover what your ancestors did for work, what they did for fun, and what they liked to read about. Doing so may help the deciding student discover what their family trajectory has been. That past trajectory may then point the student in the "right" direction. Let me offer an example.

Let's say that Sasset is thinking about majoring in creative writing or nursing. She's not sure which to pick. Her parents are encouraging her to become an RN because it seems practical and they can envision a career path with a steady income. Sasset's intrigued with both options, but is stressed about what to do. Then one weekend she visits her paternal grandmother and discovers that her great-grandmother was an aspiring author. She also learns that her great-grandmother liked to write stories in the same genre as Sasset. This discovery doesn't mean that Sasset has to become a writer, she can still decide to become a nurse. But it seems to me that this information presents a compelling narrative. Writing is a part of Sasset's ancestral past. There is a heritage here that bolsters Sasset's confidence that creative writing is the natural and right choice for her.

For those of you who do not have grandparents to interview or family memorabilia available to sift through, this process of discovering one's familial past may be difficult. For such people it may be worthwhile to do some genealogy research. Websites like and offer a plethora of information about distant family members. By getting to know your grandparents and great-grandparents you might just discover who you are and what you want to become.


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