Carolyn Hax is away. In her absence, we are offering readers' favorites from her archive.
Q: I've spent most of my life working toward a certain career. Now, in my senior year of college, with acceptance to my grad school of choice and employment for when I graduate, I'm thinking about going a very different route.
With grad school, I'm basically locked in for 15 years. If I don't take this offer now, it's unlikely I'll get it again. Plus, everyone knows! That shouldn't matter, but I'm afraid of disappointing those around me, and myself. Any words of wisdom?
Carolyn: It might be time for a year or three off. As in, off a defined path — which can be anything from wage work in a resort area to the Peace Corps to interning for a pet cause or whatever your imagination and finances permit.
Some schools would rather have students defer enrollment and come back fully committed than enter right away only to burn out, so see if that's possible. Visit your school's career counseling office, too. Find room to breathe. You made it to adulthood without seriously challenging a child's notion of who you are. I'm plainly biased, but I believe the decisions you make after you try on a few different kinds of lives are better than the ones you make from a linear path.
Anonymous 2: I don't disagree with you, Carolyn, just want to play devil's advocate: Post-recession, a year (or 10) of Peace Corps/bartending/being generally underemployed and underpaid is forced upon many of us. Not to say that grad school is right for this person, but be realistic about the actual alternatives.
Carolyn: Fair enough. Another post-recession effect, though, is that the handcuffs of a defined path are staying on (and chafing) longer, too. Mid-career do-overs are not for the faint of savings, especially if grad-school debt outlasts the career it launched.