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Way out of my comfort zone

My college program has me feeling so anxious—but is this because it’s intense, or is it just not right for me?

Don’t give up, says our elder. Even if it turns out not to be for you, there will be opportunities to put your skills to good use.

Dear EWC

Currently, I am in college. I worked really hard to get into this program (dental hygiene). I moved all the way across the country away from my family. I have put myself completely out of my comfort zone and I know that does explain some of the anxiety I have been feeling. Also, I should mention I am 20 turning 21. However since being in this program (just finished my first semester, about to go into my second), I have had enormous amounts of anxiety, feelings of depression, just all around been feeling so unsteady. This program is very demanding and very expensive and I am putting myself into a large amount of debt to get through it. I do want to succeed but I just can’t help but feel so anxious!

My problem is I don’t know if I am feeling this way because the program is just intense, stressful and hard or if I am feeling this way because it’s generally not for me. If it’s just because it’s hard then I don’t want to give up because that’s not the kind of person I am! Although if it’s really because it’s not for me, well then I just feel trapped because I have no backup, no Plan B. I am already so deep in this debt and I don’t know what else I would turn to. I guess I just feel like this huge weight is suffocating me and even though I get up every day and go to class it’s a struggle most days in my head. On days off I have trouble leaving my bed.

I’m worried it’s not going to work out, or that I am wasting all this precious time away from my family for no reason. It hurts a lot to be so far from them even though I know it’s a short term pain for long term success. Neither of my parents are financially stable and that’s why I am chasing a career that makes such a great profit. I’m terrified of being in a similar situation and I want to break the family chain. I’ve made It this far so I feel like it only makes sense to keep going? I just hate feeling this way.

Gabriel-A replies

I give you credit for being honest in your assessment. The good news is that you are 20-21 and have the whole world in front of you. It’s common to be discouraged at that age for any number of reasons, so remember that you are not alone. Again, with your age you can try many careers, so I would recommend that you don’t give up on your current dreams yet. You have plenty of time to pursue them and in a worse case, leverage those skills into another area if need be.

For your concern whether your career choice is right for you, can you sign up for an internship? If so, this is not only good experience to help assure you that you’ve chosen a field that you’ll enjoy, but many times provides an opportunity for employment in the future.

With regard to the demanding aspect of your classes, I had a similar experience in college. I was taking a college algebra/trigonometry class and struggling to even get a C. I knew on my own I wouldn’t succeed. I decided to work with a tutor, put in the extra hours, and eventually got a B in the class. I would encourage you to not limit yourself by what you believe you are capable of today. Most of us can do much more than we think. Also don’t forget that if you do your best, you’ve already succeeded. There will always be people smarter and not as smart as you. I’ve found it best to not compare myself with others too much.

I faced a similar situation. I started out in college training to be a teacher of grade school children and found out quickly that it wasn’t for me (the internship helped me decide.) Then I switched to Psychology and although I enjoyed it reasonably, I found out that I couldn’t make a very good living in social services and I didn’t have the interest or money for a masters or doctorate degree to pursue other avenues. I completed my bachelor’s degree but felt extremely lost and that I had let my family down. Jobs weren’t plentiful when I graduated and for a while, I had to work in the same factory where I had worked to help support the cost of my education. I really felt like a failure. What I didn’t realize in college, was that many people had degrees in something other than what they were currently doing. The good news is that a college education opens many doors. Ultimately I devoted my career to purchasing management where I could still use my psychology training to manage staff and negotiate significant contracts with suppliers. I enjoyed the challenges of this profession and made a good life for myself.

If you haven’t done so already, I would encourage you to make an appointment with one of your university counselors. In my experience, they are very good at understanding the marketplace and providing guidance. If you’re not sure of your interests or other special skills, they may have an aptitude test available which could also prove insightful. I took one in college and found it very helpful.

Also, if you need a Plan B, I would recommend making a list of potential careers you might want to explore. Think through the pros and cons of each and list them on a spreadsheet. In my experience, writing this kind of analysis down helped to give me clarity on which way to move forward.

As far as feeling anxious, depressed, etc., I’m afraid this is very common in college. I would suggest writing down what is causing your current feelings. If it’s more than one issue, that’s OK. Next to them, list what action you could take that would improve your attitude. Most importantly, taking positive action makes all the difference. The worst thing you can do is sit around and rehash negative thoughts. Remember that although bad things may happen to us, we still have the ‘choice’ as to how we react to them.

Keep in mind that nothing replaces hard work. Dedicate yourself to good study habits to achieve great grades. Maintain your focus and persevere through difficult times. The latter is often what makes the difference between success and failure.

Letter #: 453071
Category: Career

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