Most of my good friends know I have some type of fractional-life crisis on a weekly to bi-weekly basis. The crises range from the standard: is my major right for me, to the more extreme: is college even the right path for me, would I be happier opening a bagel stand in the Pacific Northwest, or maybe shaving my head, selling my possessions, and moving to the Himalayas to become one with the universe. I suffer from a severe case of The Grass Is Always Greener Syndrome, and the discontented restlessness it produces leads to many improbable daydreams and fantasies about alternate life paths.
The theme of my latest episode, thankfully much milder than wanting to move to Hawaii to pursue hula dancing, was career regret. I imagined myself happier in a business-y role-- a consulting or operations or analyst job or something of the sort-- and kicked myself for never exploring other options in the precious four years when it's easiest to. I felt that I had pigeonholed myself into tech and would spend the rest of my life positioning divs while numbing the pain with kombucha and expensive headphones, instead of shmoozing clients in Belize or watching millions of dollars fly across eight different monitors on a trading floor full of grunts and whoops and Wes Walker playing in the background. If I did want to switch, if I re-negged and tried to finesse some business job that required little to no qualifications and ever-so-slowly worked my way up to some bargain-bin Jordan Belfort wannabe, I'd be "behind" my business friends who've been snaking, networking, and resume padding for the last four years.
I decided to mention my worry to my parents, more so to change the subject from what I was eating or when I was sleeping than to solicit advice. Most of the advice my parents give me has no correlation to the problem at hand. It's like they pick slips out of a hat of aphorisms of widely varying practicality, such as: "drink more water", "chewing your food thoroughly is essential for the body and mind", or "meditate until you realize that everything is one and at that point even your biggest worries will be rendered trivial." As a consequence of this, I often forget that they've lived for fifty-plus years and that I share half of their DNA.
After some of the accurate, but difficult to internalize cliches such as "you shouldn't compare yourself to anybody but yourself", "do what makes you happy, not what looks the best", my dad dropped some truly impactful advice, the kind of advice you get from a self-help book that starts with a case study on an individual who followed it so you know the claim is substantiated in some way. He listed off his college friends, all in their 50s now, all super successful in their own ways, and how they got there.
The best engineer he knew is now a "spiritual consultant" who writes abstract blog posts and barely uses technology. Another friend of his worked on electronics for 15 years before deciding to go to business school in his late 30s, and is now a consultant in a field that has absolutely nothing to do with his education or work experience. In fact, most of his friends, even the ones that seemed 100% set on further pursuing what they studied, bounced around from career to career well into adulthood, and they were happier because of it, thoroughly exploring each pasture to ensure that, when they settled on a side, the grass wasn't greener on the other.
It's ridiculous to get hung up on finding your life passion in the first quarter of your life and force yourself to commit to it for the other three. You have no idea how you're going to evolve or how the people you're comparing yourself to are going to evolve. You can loosely model the trajectory of your life with some dumb college-life regression that takes in GPA, gregariousness, and internship prestige, but humans are infinitely more complex than that. Four years is nothing in the grand scheme of life and despite all my best efforts and over-planning, forty year old Karthik might want to throw away 20 years of programming experience to teach senior citizens diaphragmatic breathing and there's nothing I can do to stop him, so there's no point in stressing about where I'll fall in my misguided success graph this far in advance.
My dad didn't tell me to switch majors or put my blinders on and force myself to enjoy the job I had lined up, but to calm down and treat each phase of life as a necessary learning experience that'd get me closer to that greenest field, almost certainly unknown to me now despite my endless pre-emptive planning, and when I got there, after exploring all the various edges of life, I'd be confident in my contentedness.