If you asked a group of college students what their greatest fear is, the responses would be fairly predictable. Heights. Snakes. Spiders. You name it. But I think if you had a truth detecting device to scan every student, you would find a uniting, unspoken fear that grips at their core and keeps them up at night: what the heck am I going to do for a career?

I think that so much of the fear and uncertainty of this question rests on our tendency to separate the concepts of job and career. We have this vision—however concrete or abstract—as to what we want out of a career. But when it comes to actually putting pen to paper and finding a real life job, we tense up. We stop thinking about a career and start worrying about picking the right starting job. It doesn’t matter if the company or industry is a good fit for us or not; it’s got the right starting salary and the right job title, so we jump at the opportunity. Meanwhile, if we’d been thinking of our career the entire time, we wouldn’t have considered that actual job in the first place. Before I get too bogged down in the difference between two pretty similar words, let me apply what I’m talking about to my own life.

When searching for internships for this past summer, before I even realized it, I started to apply to some jobs that, thinking about it now, I would have hated. When I realized this (and subsequently withdrew most of the applications), I sat back and evaluated what had led me to that point in the first place. What had made me so concerned about getting an internship in the summer between my second and third year at Alabama that I began applying to companies I had no real interest in working for? I quickly understood that it was this unspoken fear mentioned above that had led me down this path. I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do, so I had just started to look where I thought I was supposed to look based on my observation of others. 

After this realization, I started to tackle the fear head on. I still didn’t know (and don’t know) what I wanted to do in my career for the rest of my life, but I was getting closer to it by the day. I started reading—really reading—in subjects that interested me (I’ve got a closet full of horseracing books I’ve finished if anyone wants to borrow them and pick up a new hobby). I started watching TV shows about the topics I enjoyed. I started researching career opportunities in some industries or areas that piqued my interest but may not have been conventional. By chance, one of those TV shows—Mindhunter (highly recommend)—led me to apply for an internship with the FBI, even with my not knowing anyone or anything about the actual structure of the agency. I could speak for days as to how life-changing my experience with the Bureau was this summer, but in the end, it was a valuable step towards figuring out what I want to do in my career. I went into work every day happy to be there because I loved the work I was doing; it wasn’t just merely being glad to have another item to put on the resume. And I think that that’s how you really know if you should be at a job (or any other activity for that matter). Does the thought of going to work or the group meeting make you excited or does it leave you with a feeling of dread? We don’t have enough free time to be wasting it joining a club we have no real interest in or working at a job for 2 years that will help strengthen our resume but makes us dread Monday-Friday week after week. 

Along with the internship, I have just started to invest my free time in the things I want to invest my time into—and nothing else. As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, I’m not exactly sure what I want to do for the rest of my life. I definitely see a career with the Bureau being a real possibility, but I want to make sure that there isn’t something out there that is too interesting and excites me too much to pass up. Regardless of the career I end up going into, though, I don’t merely want to job-hop. I don’t want to climb some ladder that must be climbed just to reach a certain title or salary; I want to get fulfillment out of every day of work. I want to be able to have a genuine smile on my face as I start the workday. After all, this is the rest of our lives that we’re talking about. We can’t just jump into a plan because our parents or a teacher told us it was a good idea; we’ve got to find the career that we were made for and called to. 

I’ll close with my one of my all-time favorite quotes from Henry David Thoreau. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” So if you take nothing else from this blog, my advice would be this:

“Find your woods and never stop living life deliberately. You won’t regret it.”


Jake McDonald is a junior studying economics and finance from Pensacola, FL. He began an internship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation this past summer and will continue to intern there until graduation. His interests include avidly following his New York sports teams, keeping up with politics, and devoting countless hours to reading. At UA, his involvement centers around Alpha Rho as Vice President of Alumni Affairs and First College Ministry, where he serves as Vice President, along with membership and participation in many other groups on campus such as the Business Honors Program. He hopes to pursue a career in economics, horseracing, politics, or some intersection of these topics. If you need some winning picks for the Kentucky Derby next year, he’s your guy.


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