Competitive Advantage

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Competitive Advantage

Delivering Tips, Insights and Resources for Success

Get monthly updates of the latest articles

Help! I Picked the Wrong Career or College Major (What to Do Next)

  • Does every day feel like Monday at your job?
  • Do you feel wedged into a career you don’t like?
  • Are you scared to go back to college because you don’t know what to study?
  • Are you second-guessing your college major?

If you’re saying YES to any of these questions, then this article could open the door to your next move! Learn simple exercises to help you understand your core motivations and discover how you find motivation and meaning in your work.

You can change

You’re already on your way to a brighter career future because you’ve recognized that you’re not where you want to be.

At this step in your journey there are three important things to acknowledge:

  1. You aren’t satisfied with your job/career (or college major).
  2. You want a change.
  3. You CAN make a change.

Take some time to write out (or tell a friend) why each of these items is true for you.

For instance, you could say or write:

  1. I am not happy with my current job/industry/role because…
  2. I want a different career because…
  3. I can change my job and it will be worth doing so because…

Our career/job situation can make a huge impact on how we feel about life. Most of us spend a considerable amount of time at our work, so you can invest in your happiness by taking the time to discover what gives you personal meaning and satisfaction in your job.

I already made one mistake, what if I make another one?

It’s scary to change jobs, career paths, or even your college major. The big question in our minds is this: “What if my next choice is as bad or worse than my current situation?”

Every job has its highs and lows, so we know that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” job. However, the goal is to have work that feels meaningful to you so that you don’t feel like you are just passing your time to pay your bills.

Many people are in their jobs out of necessity… not by choice. If you feel this way about your job, we get you! However, fear of making a mistake can keep us STUCK in the same place.

Understanding your core motivations is key

Conquer the fear of making another career mistake with better information. No one can make the perfect career or college major choice, but you can ask yourself better questions to help discover your core motivations.

Here are a few facts about core motivations:

  • They’re sometimes called your “WHY.”
  • They answer the question “What motivates me?”
  • You have inward energy to achieve them, even if takes hard work.

When you are in a job that fulfills your core motivations, you feel like you do important work that makes a difference.

Obviously, most of us feel motivated to have a job that pays us good money so we can go on fancy vacations or pay the phone bill on time. However, to stay motivated day in and day out, you need to have a purpose that goes beyond financial benefits.

Here are some examples of core motivations. You could start each of these with “I am motivated to…” or “I feel at my best at work when I…”

  • Help other people become dynamite versions of themselves.
  • Make progress toward goals within a team that is like family.
  • Save time for other people so they can do what is important to them.
  • Ease pain and brightening others’ days.

You probably have several things that – deep down — motivate you. When you have a meaningful career, you feel satisfied that you are making a difference and fulfilling your core motivations.

But how do I discover what I like?

Imagine this: you’re standing by at the ice cream shop deciding on a flavor. It’s an important decision because you’re going to get 3 scoops on a cone, and if you make a bad choice your day will be sad!

So, you go down the line, sampling the flavors and trying to pick the best one.

To reach a choice, you start by eliminating the flavors you DON’T like! (No lavender lemon shortbread cookie dough ice cream for me, please.)

Obviously, choosing a career path is a much bigger commitment, but you can still use the process of elimination to help you narrow down the options.

Eliminating what doesn’t motivate you is especially beneficial when you take time to understand WHY you don’t like your job or college major.

Here’s a simple exercise you can use to help you understand the things that DO… or DON’T… motivate you:

1. Write down 5-8 experiences when you remember LIKING your job or situation. For instance, you might write down:

  • I liked my job on the day when my boss said that I was the MVP for helping the team finish early.
  • I liked my anatomy & physiology class because it’s crazy to see how the body works!
  • It made my day when the customer told me she chooses me specifically because I give the best recommendations.

2. Write down the frustrations with your job/situation. This isn’t a gripe fest, but instead a chance to write down some objective facts about your job (or college major).

  • I don’t like to do the same thing over and over again without seeing progress.
  • It drives me crazy when other people don’t see the value in the work I do.
  • My boss makes me feel inferior and doesn’t give me credit for the experience I have.
  • All my finance classes have focused on theoretical concepts, but I really want to just help “normal” people learn to manage their daily finances.

3. Go back to each of your LIKE and DISLIKE lists and ask “WHY?” at least twice for each item. For extra points, ask “Why” 3-4 times, for each answer you provide. For instance:

  • WHY did I like it when my boss said that my work helped the team get out sooner that day? Because I like to help people save time. WHY? Because I want people to have more time to do what matters to them. WHY? Because family time is the most important thing to me.

4. Get help to “connect the dots.” Find a career coach at a career center or discuss your answers with a friend. With your helper, record observations like these:

  • It makes me excited to see people have “aha” moments.
  • I get the most satisfaction on my job when I am behind the scenes but making my team look good.
  • I don’t enjoy teaching people who don’t care about what they’re learning.
  • I want to feel like I’m making a difference in kids’ lives.
  • I don’t like working in environments where I’m constantly expected to pressure people into decisions.

You’ll know yourself better after this thought exercise. Here are two more that you can ask to narrow down the options for your next move:

  • Do I like my major or career, but need a different situation or context where I can practice my skills? For instance, maybe you still love the medical field, but you want a job where you can interact more with patients instead of doing behind-the-scenes tasks.
  • Do I need a little more education so that I can have bigger responsibilities? Maybe you’d love to be the teacher instead of the classroom assistant, or the manager instead of the line worker.

You could go on and on with this exercise for a long time. Stop at whatever point you feel like you have more information about yourself, and don’t worry about making it perfect.

As you reflect on your core motivations, you should have at least a few “Aha!” moments.

How Paul connected his career dots and transitioned to a meaningful role

In a recent article, we explored 7 ways to find out if you’ll like a particular career or college major and heard the story of Paul Stuart. He’s a 50-something from Caledonia, MS who thought he wanted to be a coach and teacher. He got his associate degree in the education field, but when he spent some time helping in an 8th-grade classroom, he panicked! It was NOT what he had expected.

So, instead of pursuing dreams of teaching, he took a job in manufacturing and continued there for decades.

However, after a friend encouraged him to check out the Complete 2 Compete (C2C) program in MS, he returned to college and completed a University Studies degree at Mississippi State University. His degree gave him the motivation to also change up his career, and now he is in a new role and is doing training and workforce education for the people in his company.

He feels like he’s come full-circle: He’s rediscovered that he really does love education, but he just doesn’t enjoy classroom management and working with unmotivated young students.

Could you be like Paul, and just need a new avenue for your interests? As he understood more about himself and received more training, he discovered that the challenges of going back to college were worth it!

“At my age sometimes it’s hard to get a spark from somewhere to want to go to work,” he says. However, now that he has a meaningful job where he can fulfill his core motivations, he says “I don’t even think about retiring now!”

Seriously, get help

Most of us need help to truly “connect the dots” and discover a meaningful career. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to get help on your journey.

If you’re in college or considering a certain college, access the career centers available at many universities and community colleges. They can provide assistance to help you explore other options, and their experienced career counselors can ask questions to help you discover what’s really meaningful to you.

Another way to get help is through the Complete 2 Compete (C2C) program in Mississippi. C2C is designed for adults (21 or older) who have some college credits but no degree (yet!). The program provides resources to help these adults return to college and graduate, including C2C coaches, who are students’ best friends. They can offer helpful college major and career guidance and help students choose the fastest, least expensive, and most relevant path to a college degree. Juan, a C2C graduate, said this about his coaches: “They were attentive to my fears and my doubts and were always available for consultation. I am forever grateful to them both.”

Paul Stuart also saw the huge benefit to relying on his C2C coach and said this: “That’s the main thing: not being scared to get some help. Once I got going it kind of went smooth.”

You might be surprised at how easy it is to make a career change when you take the time to ask yourself better questions and get a little help to learn about more options!

Other Resources

As you consider college majors and careers, a perfect first step is to complete the C2C survey to find out what resources you can access. It takes two minutes to discover what you are eligible for through the Mississippi program, and the C2C coaches can be especially helpful for adults who need an outside perspective about career options. Start here.

Change is hard, but staying the same is hard too

You deserve being fulfilled at your job. Remember that you CAN change and take steps to pursue work that satisfies your core motivations.

If you’re ready to finish your college degree to achieve your “change,” be sure to complete the quick C2C survey to see if the Complete 2 Compete program could help you reach your goals faster.


C2C is a state program that helps Mississippi adults who previously attended college earn a degree and create a brighter future.