“So, what do you want to do with your life?”
The question plagues many of us.
Clarity and College Students
In the fall of 2016, 20.5 million students were enrolled in a college or university. 20-50% of those students began with an undeclared major. 75% of students will change their major at least once before graduation with the average college student changing their major three times before graduation.
While indecisiveness is common, it’s not without consequence. Dan Johnston serves as Regional Director of Pennsylvania’s Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). According to Johnston, one of the worst pieces of college advice he hears others give is “If you don’t know what major you want, go as an undeclared student. You can decide on your major after a few basic courses.” In a Forbes article, Johnston explains why this advice is so unhelpful.
“For most students, that is the worst advice possible. Granted, there will always be students whose best initial choice is undeclared, but they represent a very small percentage of students. The idea that a large number of students without a career plan can take a few basic courses, then suddenly ‘find’ themselves (to the tune of $20,000 to $50,000 per year), is sadly pathetic and needlessly expensive.”
My Struggle to Declare a Major
I can relate to Johnston’s description. I began my college career with an undeclared major. Uncertain if I wanted to be a pastor or go into business, I dealt with a great deal of frustration during my freshman year. Under a lot of pressure to pick a major, I was forced to take a non-credit class during my second semester, where I endured a number of assessments and inventories. I knew I would major in one area and minor in the other but I didn’t know which one should be my major. Luckily by the end of Spring Break, I sensed a peace in my prayers. I declared as a Biblical and Theological Studies major with a minor in Business.
But as I look back, I see that I wasn’t just taking assessments and getting frustrated with my lack of clarity. In the meantime, I had been taking steps, doing all I could to pursue greater clarity. It was those steps which led me to greater clarity regarding my calling.
What Should I Do Next?
After my post last week on how burdens birth callings, a reader (who happens to be a good friend) messaged me and asked, “So what would advice be for someone who has a burden for something but doesn’t know where to start, other than praying for direction/wisdom?” Luckily, I had already decided to write on clarity today, so I test-drove some of my ideas for this post with her. She resonated with what I shared and we talked about ways she could put those steps into practice.
I felt a lot of compassion and empathy for my friend. I’ve been where she is today. I’ve been stuck before too.
Ambiguity paralyzes us. When we’re uncertain about our next steps, we feel stuck, unconfident and even afraid. Sometimes, indecision and uncertainty can become our permanent residences, not our temporary locations.
Our college expert, Dan Johnston, describes the consequences of indecision for college students. “The undecided too often wander their way through, to no great result. I believe that undecided young people need help making good choices more than they need a campus full of options.”
Three Ways to Create More Clarity
So, in the midst of so many options, how do we make good choices? How do we zero in on the option which is best for us?
Here’s what I told my friend over text message last week, the same thing I’d tell you today. These three things are a great place to start.
Starting small feels insignificant and unimportant.
It can seem like only large things matter.
Yet, when we trace back the story of nearly every large work or world changer, the process began at an embryonic level.
In the same Forbes article Johnston appeared, I learned some schools are starting “exploratory tracks”. These help students identify a general direction at the beginning of their college career and give them their first three semesters to make a choice on a specific major.
If you’re feeling uncertain about your calling in a certain area of life, then experiment! Get your feet wet. Step out and get uncomfortable. See what emerges.
As I was looking for clarity on my major, I started taking classes in both majors. I got involved in my local church and a campus ministry. I worked for some local businessmen.
Action brings clarity. It is easier to change direction once you’re moving than it is to get started in the first place. If things seem murky, take a step forward and see if the light increases.
It is very easy to feel like a failure for not having greater clarity about a decision. Most of us have an inner voice which is more like a bully than a friend. This voice shames us for not having all the answers.
Guess what? We aren’t supposed to have all the answers!
Getting input from others can increase the clarity we feel about what our calling(s) look(s) like.
My mentor in college once shared with me how Quakers use a tradition known as a Clearness Committee to clarify God’s will.
When a member of the community has a concern or dilemma they are unable to gain clarity on, they request a Clearness Committee. A select group of other community members commits to assisting this man or woman to gain greater clarity. The committee is committed to helping the individual find the answer within rather offering advice or guidance. The committee is only allowed to ask questions and is not able to give advice.
This community of discernment embodies the idea “we are smarter than me.” When we draw on the perspective of others, we shore up our blind spots and expand our awareness. The writer of Proverbs wisely stated, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
During my search for a major, I sat down and talked with a business professor, Christian Studies professors, my advisors, friends, mentors, family members, and my Bible Study group.
Yes, there are times where polling those around us can become a veiled attempt at procrastination. Yet, when we get input from the wise and experienced around us, we often gain greater clarity.
Many of us live at a frenetic pace, rarely stopping long enough to rest much less reflect. It’s as if we expect clarity to emerge despite the fact our speed makes our vision permanently blurry.
Whether in writing or just in our heads, what if we stepped back and created space to process what we’re thinking and feeling? How has our past has been preparing us for our future?
This is the question my friend Brad asked (I explored Brad’s story in part two of this series). When faced with the problem of human slavery in his city, Brad initially thought he had nothing to offer in terms of solutions. But the more he reflected, the more he began to see the connection between his connections with local churches and nationally-known comics with the financial needs for those on the frontline of this battle. His idea of “comedy for a cause” has led to sold-out theaters along with much-needed resources.
I finally came to clarity at the end of my Spring Break trip during my freshman year. After driving from Phoenix to San Francisco, we explored new cities and made unforgettable memories. We returned to Phoenix via my hometown of Las Vegas. One afternoon, I hung back at home while my friends went out exploring. And as I had some moments of quiet reflection, I was surprised with clarity.
I knew what I was supposed to do. And I’m still doing it today!
Our perspective is often more like a peephole than a panorama. We don’t see the full picture; we won’t until we slow down and step back. Like a water which stills when we stop stirring it, we gain perspective when we slow down, pull back, and reflect.
As a follower of Jesus, I not only believe in reflection but divine inspiration.
When we’re reflecting and open to God speaking, clarity emerges from what we see and what God reveals to us.
I believe God longs to speak to us. But we can’t hear God if we don’t stop long enough to listen.
What Is Your Clarity Process?
This is what I do and what I shared with my friend.
But what about you?
How have you gained greater clarity on your calling(s)?
Share a comment below and help the rest of us get clearer as we move forward.