1. Getting a Degree in Something You Hate
Why it feels like the end of the world: Because you’ve just spent thousands of dollars and four years to figure out that you absolutely hate your major. And now the only way to pay down that debt is to do the thing that you hate… professionally.
Why it’s totally fine: In the vast majority of cases*, no one cares what you got your college degree in, just that you got one. If a college degree is like bad-tasting medicine, your major is more or less just the flavoring you chose to swallow it with. College is about learning how to think, communicate, problem solve, and be good with current technology — that means all the time you spent making GIFs for Tumblr in Photoshop is good experience too. And you can do all these things (or not do them!) with any major that you choose. If anything, having a diverse background (and showing that you acquired diverse skills) makes you an asset.
But again, the only people who regularly ask about college majors are usually people in college, or people who are living in the past. No one else really cares.
*(There are obviously a few very specific exceptions to this, especially if you’re a humanities major who realizes your calling is medicine or science — but even if you are one of the unlucky few who find yourself in this situation, you already have a good critical thinking background, so you aren’t truly starting from the bottom again. Plus, if it’s your calling — and not just a retroactive backup career — you will find a way to make it work.)
2. Waiting to Travel
Why it feels like the end of the world: Everyone has awesome travel pictures, you have major FOMO, and you worry that between career and kids you have missed your chance.
Why it’s totally fine: Travel is one of those few opportunities that everyone has — regardless of age — to try new things and be crazy. Waiting until you’re a little older, or even much older, to travel means that you will not only have more money to spend, but you give yourself something to look forward to and be excited about as you get older. Growing up and more stable comes with a host of perks — being able to afford your dream vacation is one of them.
3. Getting Yourself Fired
Why it feels like the end of the world: Because you have no idea how you are supposed to explain this in job interviews. It can seem like you will never get a job again, not with that big fat scarlet F on your chest… the F standing for “fired,” “failure,” and “fuuuuuuuck I am so screwed.”
Why it’s totally fine: Getting fired can happen to anyone, so you are going to learn how to address it at some point. People get fired for not being a good fit. People get fired for silly political reasons. People also get fired for being bad or tired of their jobs. How you talk about being fired in an interview is the most important part: “[The name of the company that fired me] wasn’t a good fit, but now I’m excited to find my next opportunity.” Showing that you are a person who takes things in stride and learns from their mistakes is valuable — arguably even more valuable than a person who has never had to learn anything the hard way.
Another plus: Showing that you’ve learned from being shit-canned means that some other poor employer got to shell out the cash to teach you a lesson that your new employer will now reap the benefits of for free!
4. Picking the Wrong Career
Why it feels like the end of the world: You put up with a lot of abuse and crappy pay only to throw it all away and start at the beginning — it’s easy to feel like you’ve wasted your youth.
Why it’s totally fine: While the claim that people change careers an average of seven times in their life has been largely debunked, changing careers, especially in your twenties, is completely normal. Even if it wasn’t normal, the idea of being in one line of work for the rest of your life — your thirties, your forties, your fifties, your sixties, and even beyond — would surely get boring. Plus, there is a chance that the career you have in your forties might not even exist right now, so the ability to pick up a whole new skill set is an asset that you will carry with you throughout your career.
Secondly, just because you change careers doesn’t mean you aren’t taking any meaningful skills with you. The ability to work well with others (without seeming like a suck up), to communicate effectively (without abusing the reply all button), and problem solve without freaking out are things that every person needs to learn how to do, regardless of their job. Because of all this, you really only start from the bottom once. Remember that.
5. Dropping Out of Graduate School
Why it feels like the end of the world: For a little while, at least, when anyone asks your parents how you are doing, they are going to respond with “[Your name] dropped out of grad school. Sigh. And they were doing so well.” Also, debt.
Why it’s totally fine: Dropping out of grad school is a big decision. Even if it upends your life, there was probably a good reason to do it. Just because you don’t know your next step yet doesn’t meant that the step you just took — dropping out — wasn’t a good step. It just means that you have yet to figure out what your next decision is going to be. If it was too expensive, then you’ve saved yourself more debt. If you didn’t like the work, you’ve just saved yourself wasted years.
Most important: For many careers, there is more than one path to get to the place you want to be. Line up 10 people in the same career, and the chances of their paths all being identical is basically impossible.
6. Being in a Long-Term Relationship That You Hate
Why it feels like the end of the world: Uh, have you seen OkCupid? Starting over is basically the worst thing in the world. Besides, everyone else is starting to settle down, and you may worry about being that friend who doesn’t get invited to dinner parties.
Why it’s totally fine: Your brain is like a lint roller; every time you have an experience, some more lessons stick to you. Without the experience, you don’t get the lessons. The experience of being in what you now know to be a bad relationship has now taught you what you want in a good relationship — a lesson you absolutely need and might not have otherwise learned.
Learning how to be in a relationship is a skill. Skills take time and failure to learn. You will not be that one person who only has one perfect relationship forever and forever, so embrace your failures and use them to get better — we’re all in this boat with you!
7. Ending a Friendship
Why it feels like the end of the world: Ending a friendship is like breaking up with an S.O. but worse, because at the end of the drama, you can’t go back to being friends. It will be super awkward, and if you still have mutual friends, parties are going to be weird for awhile.
Why it’s totally fine: Your ability to love is like an internet connection; you only get so much bandwidth. As you get older, you will naturally spend more and more bandwidth on fewer and fewer people — having 20 best friends gets exhausting, and nobody has time for that. So, in getting rid of a toxic friend, you are actually just accelerating a process that is going to occur naturally anyway, and leave you with more time and space for people who build you up.
Think of learning to use your smart phone for the first time: You felt awkward and stupid at first, but eventually it became so vital to your mental well-being you don’t know how you ever did without it.
8. Leaving a Job for a Relationship (Or a Relationship for a Job)
Why it feels like the end of the world: Because leaving a job for a relationship (or vice-versa) is what happens to every lead character at the beginning of every rom-com…right before their entire world turns to shit.
Why it’s totally fine: People need fulfilling careers. People need fulfilling relationships. A mistake people make in their twenties is completely valuing one over the other, but you actually need both — that was the entire point of A Christmas Carol. The common wisdom is that you are better equipped to make good strides in your career in your twenties than you are to make good strides in your relationship, so it’s better to focus on your career, but here is the truth of the matter:
If you loved that job or that person enough where you were willing to completely ditch something in return, you didn’t really love the thing you ditched.
Even if you end up with no job and no relationship, what you’ve managed to do is prune things from your life that you don’t really love, but also don’t hate enough to get rid of. These are the types of things that might take years for you to realize that you hate. Being forced to get rid of something can open you up to better opportunities.
And, if the job or relationship works out, you end up with something that you love. It’s a risk worth taking.