This week’s post is contributed by Tracy Skala, Career Development Coach and our unofficial assessment specialist.  A member of our team since August 2015, she previously worked at Loyola University’s Career Development Center while completing her graduate degree.

When you think about the next decade of your life, what does it look like? My guess is that it follows this track:

  1.       Pass all your classes
  2.       Graduate
  3.       Find dream job in your field of study
  4.       Work at said job until retirement

And everything else will work itself out. It worked for previous generations, so it must be a method for success.

But here’s what’s wrong with that mindset: it was created for a world that doesn’t exist anymore, forced upon you by old-school societal expectations. This mindset puts you in the backseat and removes any choice you thought you might have in your career. Maybe that sounds a bit harsh, but think about your choices in comparison to the expectations placed upon you. There is an expectation that you attend college, study enough to pass your classes, graduate, and find a job that “utilizes your degree.” Yes, you have some choice in where you attend college and what you study. Other than that, you’re working really hard to follow this prescribed track for an economy that doesn’t support it anymore. You’re stressing when your grades slip, when you need to take a semester off from classes, when you don’t know what your dream job is, when you can’t find a job after graduation.

My advice? Quit stressing. Read up on what it means to live in the gig economy. Buy into those inspirational Facebook posts about how Oprah was fired at 23 and Tina Fey was working at the YMCA. Remind yourself that success is chaotic:

Do some self-reflection. Start searching for your ikigai. Meet with a career coach. Learn as much as you can from a career assessment. Then, go do something. Anything. It’s the only way you can truly understand what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and what the world needs. Carve out your own path. Learn a new skill then find someone in need of that skill. Find a group of people who have similar interests to you. Watch this and remember that not all great ideas are brand new ideas. Create something. Network. Have a conversation with a random person on the train. Just put yourself out there!

You don’t have to know right now what you want to do for the rest of your life. You only have to decide what you’re going to do next. The path will become clearer as you go. In the words of many motivational speakers, you can’t steer a parked car. There will be many roads to follow throughout your life. The only thing that matters is that you choose one; don’t let someone else choose it for you.

Tracy Skala is an Illinois Tech Career Development Coach and College of Science liaison. She can be reached at or at the Career Services office in Hermann Hall, Suite 113. Contact her or book an appointment on Jobs4Hawks for assessment and advising.

Blazing Your Own Trail