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Dear Stavroula

Ask Stavroula: I Spent Years of My Life Studying the Wrong Subject

February 13, 2021

Dear Stavroula,

I am a 24-year-old student and lately I am not feeling good at all about my life. I have not yet managed to finish my studies, while most of my fellow students have already finished their postgraduate degrees. I have been left alone without friends, since most of them have graduated and are either working or have gone abroad for postgraduate studies. I feel like I have completely failed.

I have some courses left to get my degree. I'm in a very demanding school, and all I do is spend day and night studying, taking notes, and struggling to get through it. Now that I am finishing my studies, I think I don’t really like the subject and I am not at all sure that the direction I have chosen is the right one for me. I think it was the wrong choice. My family pushed me to get a master's degree, and when I think about it, I feel like I’m drowning. How can I tell them that for so many years I have studied something I do not want to do? And on the other hand that I wasted so many years? I feel very confused. Can you help me?

Despina

Dear Despina,

When one graduates from university, one is at a turning point in one's life. The period that has no obligations other than studying and school ends and with it ends the way of life that is familiar for each person from their elementary school years onwards. The graduate faces the need for vocational training, the beginning of obligations and responsibilities. This in itself is already very stressful and can often create a strong sense of insecurity, uncertainty, and doubt.

It is very likely that this is happening to you, and that is why you are feeling so frustrated now. The first thing I would advise you to do is talk to a mental health professional and discuss with him anything that concerns you. He will be able to help you understand yourself and feel more confident about your unique choices.

You write to me that you feel a strong feeling of failure. There are two ways in which people perceive failure. One is to experience it as an irreversible event that characterizes and marks them. They believe that their failure is due to their insufficient abilities and therefore, since it will never be overcome, they should learn to live with it.

The other way is to treat failure as the starting point of a future success. In this case one sees his failure as an event due to specific factors. He examines what went wrong and what was the cause. He looks for ways to overcome what led to failure. He assumes his responsibilities and draws up action plans.

You spent more time finishing your studies and now you feel like you do not like it. If you are sure that you really do not like what you have studied, and you are not rejecting it right now only because you feel frustrated and have the feeling of failure or maybe because you are afraid that in the same direction you may ‘fail’ again, then you should seriously consider possibly doing something else in your life. We do not need to be punished for our wrong choices. We can learn from them and move on with our lives in a different way.

Think about whether the master's degree can turn in another direction, to something you might like more and then evolve accordingly. Some companies or organizations not in your current field that could interest you might value some of the knowledge and skills you have gained.

But if you are not completely sure, then another way you could find out if you really like what you have studied is to give it a try and work on it for a while and then decide.

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