A Leap of Faith

The uncertainty of not knowing what you want to do with your life, yet having to commit to one path is overwhelming for a young person.

Photo of Pete Kale
7 2

Written by

I recall my own experience in looking for a college, trying to figure out too early what I wanted to do with my life. I was fortunate in that my parents treated college for their seven children as a given. We knew we were expected/encouraged to go to college, though we were also pressured to choose a practical field. As the fifth in line, I had older sisters who got scholarships at good colleges and two older brothers who attended military academies. But I had no idea what I wanted to do. As much as I knew I didn't want to pursue a military career, the lack of a clear alternative combined with the financial relief on my parents' budget led me to go to West Point after all was said and done.

My high school's guidance department wasn't particularly helpful. While they provided access to thick college catalogues, for a kid from a small, rural environment they didn't provide any useful insights. So making a choice was very much a leap of faith. Looking back, one of the most difficult aspects of this time was the feeling that once you commit, there's no turning back... or left or right for that matter. 

I also recall the feeling of having no real understanding about most of the career options that might have sounded intriguing, but could have easily turned out to be a miserable fit. This actually hit me in the summer prior to my senior year at the Academy. I had geared my studies toward civil engineering with the intention of joining the Army's Corps of Engineers. I spent a month with an engineer battalion before my senior year, and it was a lucky accident that I discovered it wasn't at all what I wanted to do. I had to make another leap of faith to abandon that course and was lucky again to discover the field of intelligence which turned out to be a much better fit for my particular interests and abilities. But even though things worked out, I feel now that it shouldn't have to be a matter of serendipity. There ought to be a more thoughtful process for experiencing different career options as early as possible.

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe what you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research. (Ex: Good advisors make a difference.)

A critical and overlooked part of kids' education is getting meaningful exposure to career options early and often.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Pete Kale

...as I said, it things have worked out OK for me. I even managed to work a few design projects with IDEO (the best thing I've done in my work life, period! I only wish I'd discovered Design sooner!) But as I watch my college age kids struggle with these very same issues, I feel somewhat helpless in offering them exposure to other meaningful options... Dan Pink gave some advice in a commencement address... "sometimes you need to live to figure it out." I'd like to come up with something better.

View all comments