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
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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.

Photo of Emma Scripps

Pete -What an act of bravery! Thanks for sharing your personal stories. So much of what you said resonates with me and my own experience. Especially that sense of being totally unsure about how my college degree would sync with career options. And the sense that decisions in college felt like they were so permanent and heavy. That added pressure just made things so much more difficult. Really appreciate you sharing! 

Photo of Lisa Yokana

Your story also resonates with me! I went to college and changed majors several times, then ended up going through several careers before I got to teaching. I wonder if we are forcing students to make choices too early or even if the paradigm of selecting one career for life is outdated? What do you think?

Photo of Donna Teuber

Hi Pete, I love your story! It resonates so much with me. I changed majors three times and my daughter has just realized in her junior year of college that there are other options. I would love to know how many students have this moment of serendipity and what we can do to support them in exploring their options.

Photo of Dan Ryder

I really appreciate hearing from folks with rural backgrounds.  You mention that you had a fairly significant support system around you.  I'm wondering what some of your peers went through during their efforts to explore college and post-high school life.  Or was your experience typical of folks where you went to high school?

Photo of Molly McMahon

Yessssss... so good to see this live! #love

Photo of Molly McMahon

Pete -- I love how you dug into your personal story for this design research phase. It's really powerful. If you want to post this idea, scroll back to the top and press the publish button. Also, when you a photo or a visual, then the story really comes to life. Any questions, please reach out! So glad you are checking us out!