The Report by Class Central

Disclosure: Class Central is learner-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Opinion

Hey, Grads: Your Major Is Not Your Destiny

Dennis Yang, CEO at Udemy, explains why you shouldn’t panic about making The Right career choice.

This is a guest post from Dennis Yang, CEO of Udemy. It was originally published here.

At 22, I hit one of my first major life milestones: I received my degree in chemical engineering. Those four years of hard work and late nights had led to this moment of celebration — yet something felt amiss. After pursuing and reaching goals for so long as a student, I no longer knew what the road forward looked like.

I’d just finished an internship where my job was to design safety valves for chemical reactors. I didn’t find much joy in it. Instead, I was actually spending a lot of my time worrying that I was going to get someone hurt, or worse. Previously, I’d thrown everything I had into chemical engineering, but now, at this late date, I realized I didn’t want to make it my career.

What I wish I could have told my anxiety-ridden, 22-year-old self is this: your major is not your destiny.

What I wish I could have told my anxiety-ridden, 22-year-old self is this: your major is not your destiny. 

In fact, your first job isn’t your destiny either. I moved away from engineering and took a job with a big accounting firm, despite not knowing much about finance. After that I spent time at a venture capital firm, and then at an internet marketing startup.

At the time, I was struggling to find my fit but, looking back, those early choices were good ones. I shouldn’t have worried so much! In fact, what I picked up in my wanderings is the same advice I’d share with today’s new grads.

Be patient: You’re eager, energetic, and full of ideas, but slow down and listen before you rush to present your thoughts to the board of directors. College isn’t the end of learning; it’s just the beginning of a new phase. Use your newcomer status to observe and soak up on-the-job lessons about your work environment, interpersonal dynamics, decision making, communication styles, and so on. Appreciate the transition from classroom to real world, and don’t feel bad about not having everything figured out. You’ve got time!

Go broad: Even if you think you’ve nailed down your perfect career path, keep an open mind and expose yourself to as many different things as possible early in your working life. As I found from my experience in consulting, you don’t know what you don’t know. And you can’t continue growing and evolving as a professional if you don’t stay curious and receptive to new skills, new responsibilities, and new points of view. Now’s the time for exploration and experimentation; you can specialize later.

Get mentors:  Now that I’m a CEO, I don’t get as many new hires approaching me directly for guidance. I suspect they assume I’m too busy or “important” for such interactions, or they’re afraid of looking green and clueless. All of that couldn’t be further from the truth. I know from speaking with colleagues that we all feel an obligation to help when junior employees want to tap into our experience. We were all in their shoes at one point. So, don’t be afraid to approach your senior coworkers and ask to chat over coffee. You may very well find a mentor for life.

Always be learning: If I had only one piece of advice, this would be it. Take a risk and try something unfamiliar while you’re still new to the game. In fact, my other suggestions all add up to embracing a learning mindset. If you’re taking the time to listen, venturing beyond your comfort zone, and seeking guidance from more experienced colleagues, you’ll always be growing. And that will make you a valuable team member and contributor over the course of your entire career, no matter where you end up.

Back when I graduated, “job-hopping” was frowned upon and perceived as signaling a lack of commitment and seriousness. The average worker today has 12 different jobs (and counting) by the time they turn 40. Exploring new career paths and constantly evolving as a professional are now normal, expected parts of the journey. Tools like online learning give people the opportunity to reinvent themselves and create the lives they desire in a way that just wasn’t possible in the past.

If you’re 22 and just entering the world of work, go into it with an open mind and boundless curiosity. Not only will a lifelong learning attitude serve you well, it’ll make the journey a lot more interesting and rewarding.

Dennis Yang - Udemy CEO

Dennis is an entrepreneur focused on the intersection of education and technology who’s passionate about unleashing human potential and removing barriers to upward mobility. Dennis is a regular speaker at top industry events, such as the Fortune Global Forum and Global Education and Skills Forum, and is featured frequently in media outlets, including Bloomberg Business, the Wall Street Journal, and Fortune. He received his MBA from Stanford University and BS from Northwestern University

Tags

Comments 0

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. All comments go through moderation, so your comment won't display immediately.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.