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Woe Is Me! “I Don’t Want To Pursue the Career I Trained For, But I’m Not Good at Any Anything Else!”

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Sep 27, 2020

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Image credit: Shirin Farhad (1956)

Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.


I’ve recently finished my bachelor’s degree in dental surgery, and I’m so lost about what to do next. These past 4 years were grueling and I don’t have it in me to continue with dentistry. But, there’s nothing I think I’m good enough at (including dentistry) and its taking a toll on my mental health.  

— Feeling Plaqued

RD: Don’t worry it’s okay for you to feel like this. I don’t personally believe a person is supposed to have the same career for their entire lives, and this shift can happen at any time. I will say though, that something you love to do and are good at is not going to magically fall into your lap. You’ll probably have to try a bunch of stuff to see what you like doing, then figure out a way to be good at it, while also finding a way to sustain yourself financially. I don’t have an idea of what your support structure is like, but see if you can get some help from friends/family, and if possible, find a way to work hard toward figuring what you might be into. Are you going to have to do stuff you don’t enjoy in the process? Probably. But at least it’ll keep you afloat while you explore.

KB: I’m sorry but you’re going to get some tough love right now. Grow up! Stop all this whining. Absolutely no one has their entire life plan figured out, basically ever, let alone the moment they finish their bachelor’s degree. Your 20’s are about exploration and experimentation and figuring out what you love and don’t want to spend your time on. If you need the money, I suggest spending a few years working as a dental surgeon to save up, which gives you a little more freedom to make your next move. If you don’t need the money, lucky you, you are in the tiny minority of people who has absolute freedom and flexibility in their 20’s to dabble with various types of inspiration and see what fits. Either way — it sounds like you either have a degree that will help you build some financial security (which is always enabling), or you have a wide open space to explore what fulfills you. Sounds like you’ve got it pretty good, and the only person standing in your way is you.

AS: I feel you, friend. Actually, I’m sure all of us products-of-the-Indian-education-system can understand how you, like gazillions of other kids, had to probably commit to a stream when you were 16, maybe with the additional pressure of choosing science (since, that’s sadly still considered the only ‘decent’ career choice!) 

But, here’s the thing — now, you are where you are. The fact that you know you don’t enjoy dentistry, and you’re willing to make a change, is a great start. However, I don’t think this “I think I’m not good at anything else” attitude is going to be any help. Of course you can be good at something! It’s just a matter of identifying what that is. Start by making a list of fields you do like — is it finance? Journalism? Fashion design? Or something more connected to the dental field, like manufacturing of dental-things? (bear with my suggestions, I’m just trying to get the ball rolling here) 
Next, start finding out practical ways to get some experience/study in this field. Even if you’re not good at the offset, take a course, do some reading, talk to an expert — there’s a lot you can do to get there. Basically, I suggest you get active, adopt a positive attitude, and take it as a challenge. Tell yourself that you have the full potential and the talent to make this change happen. That’s the only way to start.

RP: Congratulations on getting through a grueling four years! The times that try us and take our blood, sweat, and tears make us question everything. Is it worth it? That feeling hits everyone even when they are 100% sure they are in the career they want. So it’s hard to know if that is enough to walk away. The thing that is most striking about what you said is the feeling that you aren’t good at anything. NOT TRUE! That is absolutely not true for anyone and it often comes from the myth that when we find a career that overlaps with our passion or strengths, it should feel effortless. Should the grueling moments feel worth it, yes, but they are still exhausting!

Here’s what I’d suggest. First is figuring out what part of those four years was grueling and how. Were you bored or uninterested in the work you had to do? Could you find someone in dentistry whom you could talk to? Someone who is happy with their choice and has been through the grueling phase that you have. What do they say about it? Did that time feel the same for them? Understanding what part was difficult will help you figure out if you should look at other options. Going into that exercise knowing that everything will be tough and have a learning curve should help you filter things out. What moments feel the most gratifying in your personal life? Is it helping someone solve a problem, sharing your views on a larger issue, or having to come up with a new idea from scratch? Exploring new potential interests with the lens of how they fulfill you will help you narrow that down. Having said that, don’t give up on what you’ve already accomplished until you are sure that the rundown feeling you have now is more than just fatigue from the toughest part of the course. Good luck!

ADT: So I’ve made a lot of rapid and drastic work changes, and I can tell you that being good at anything doesn’t really matter when you’re starting out. Of course you’re going to suck! Everybody knows this — that’s why they make you practice and try at a skill again and again till you perfect it. So if failing at dentistry even when you like it is the problem, just keep at it. But, if you can’t stand the idea of grinding down someone’s pearly whites, then perhaps it’s time to stand back and reflect. What could really work here is a gap year — both for your career trajectory and mental health. Take time off, enroll into a few classes or do an internship or two in a field that you’re interested in but couldn’t really accomplish. You know what you’d like to get good at deep down — you just need time to get there.

LG: Dear White Teeth: First, congrats on making it through! Well done!! All the clap emojis! What you’ve done is not easy. Second: HUGS. Figuring out what you want to do with your life is not easy either, and that lost feeling can be overwhelming. But here’s the thing – there’s so much opportunity when you’re lost, because at that point, you can only get more found. (That’s totally grammatical, don’t @ me.) It’s not about what you’re good enough at – it’s about what you’re passionate enough about to try, and try, and try to get better at. And ‘enough’ is relative. It’s not necessarily perfection. Who cares if you’re the next Adele or Messi in your field of passion? (Yes, Field of Passion of my imaginary band name.) If you’re happy with what you’re doing and happy with what your life is, then that’s all that matters. So, for now, if you can (or, at least, on the side of your day job), figure out what you want to do, not what you are good enough to do. You’re good enough as you are, carebear.

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Written By The Swaddle Team

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