7 answers

Who am I? What am I doing here?

Asked Minneapolis, Minnesota

I am struggling with my own individual identity and I have so many career questions. I want to be an astronaut but sometimes I just want to be a policeman. No one really knows what they want to do honestly but I think I might just skip college and be an alien. #astronaut #mars #womenintech #stem #college #college-major #science #career #engineering #undecided #engineering

7 answers

Dr. Ray’s Answer

Updated Fort Worth, Texas

Dear Candace,

I don't think I can advise you about your becoming an alien, except to make sure you are a legal one. The singer Sting actually wrote a song in the 90's about being an "alien in New York," so other people, including many adults, have had similar feelings! It can be a blessing, but also a curse, to have a lot of options, since it is harder to narrow them down.

One thing I would say is that you really don't have to be in a big hurry to decide. If you attend college the first two years are mostly basic required classes, which gives you plenty of time to look around and see what interests you. I also think that most people can be happy in more than one career; I don't think there is just one you have to find or be miserable the rest of your life.

If you are serious about becoming an astronaut www.nasa.gov has lots of information for students. It's clear that they want people with a science/technology background, so that could help you narrow down possible majors. (It just occurred to me that if you become an astronaut you might meet some aliens!) I also happen to know that many large police departments require at least some college, and some require a bachelor's degree from applicants for officer positions, so attending college would also help you there. I would bet that the University of Minnesota has lots of information on majors and careers that can help you focus your search. You can tell that I think you should give college strong consideration and worry about what exactly to do with your life later on.

I won't tell you not to worry, since that would be patronizing you. I will tell you that almost everyone eventually finds a career they enjoy, and I have confidence that you will as well. Good luck in your search.

Ray Finn, Ph.D.

This is an awesome answer, Ray! Thank you for your thoughtful response.

Tom’s Answer

Updated Seattle, Washington

Hi Candace. Dr. Finn is right, you are at a time in most peoples lives when they go through exactly the same set of questions about their future. You are by no means alone. In fact there are so many folks stewing with the same challenges that a neat book was written on the subject of figuring out what to do with your future. The name of the book is What Color is Your Parachute. I used it and found it very helpful in a career change. Just as valuable when you are just starting out. It is nuts and bolts practical, I think you'd find it helpful. Good luck!!

Tom recommends the following next steps:

  • Find the book at a library or used.
I love this recommendation Tom! Might pick up a book, myself! Great advice :)

Kim’s Answer

Updated San Antonio, Texas


Some careers require that you really buckle down early and take a lot of strong academic preparation. Others allow you to take a wait and see approach. For example, if you want to go the medical/science route, you should take all the hard math and science classes in high school to prepare you for the even more difficult math and science classes in college! If you are serious about being an astronaut, you would want to do that. Also, even if you don't think you want that, if it is still a possibility, go ahead and take those classes anyway!!

Police work/criminal justice is a bit more flexible and you have more latitude in your educational approach. You would want to look at the requirements of the various departments you would want to work for. While many students are taking criminal justice programs, there is something to be said for having a cyber security background if your goal is to eventually specialize in computer crimes, for example.

Narrowing down what you want to do is difficult, because you've never done it! If someone asked you if you like fried pumpkin, but you had never tried it, how are you supposed to know? And to complicate things, most fields have several different parts, so, perhaps you don't want to be an astronaut, but you want to work in the command center for launches, or actually design spaceships? All inter-related.

The good news, outside of the sciences, many people nowadays change their jobs every 2-5 years. So, you can start out in one field, and then transition to something else. All you would have to do is explain how your experiences so far relate to the job you are applying for. It is called "transferable skills." As an example, when I left law enforcement, I became an employment counselor. I focused on how much experience I had in talking with people and getting them to voluntarily provide information, completing forms/reports, and maintaining the confidentiality of information I received. Job announcements tell you what is important - you just need to figure out how you can say that you've done it!

And yes, sadly, many jobs require college now. If you are not sure what you want, I recommend you start at a junior college and get the basic state requirements completed. You can go on to complete the Associates degree, or, transfer to a 4-yr college and get a degree. You do not have to get an associate's before transferring. As long as you are sure you are going to see it through, I would transfer after about a year and a half. Some of what is required for the associates may not count towards the bachelors - that is, it would be a waste of time and money, if your ultimate goal is a bachelors.

Finally, I would not stress so much over all of this! There is time in life to change directions. People do it all the time!

Judy’s Answer

Updated Alpharetta, Georgia

Hi Candace!

Two questions probably 99% of all us humans have asked ourselves at some point in our lives. The GOOD NEWS is you want to do something important in your life. That's probably better than 95% of folks who don't know who they are or what they want to do. I don't know any policemen or astronauts, and haven't been to MARS recently (I do know a project manager working at SpaceX on a big initiative there. It took him many years of working in the engineering field, 3 master's degrees, and lots of experience to get there). So, I would suggest you start with asking yourself "What am I passionate about? What community activities do I engage in that motivate me? What are my strengths that I can build upon?

You might check with your local Police Department and see if you can do a ride-along. And, check out NASA's website. I found a good article that might help you.

Good luck to you! Just by asking those questions, you're already headed in a great direction!

Judy recommends the following next steps:

  • Read What It's LIke to Become a NASA Astronaut: 10 Surprising Facts: https://www.space.com/37110-becoming-a-nasa-astronaut-surprising-facts.html

Krystal’s Answer

Updated Monroe, Georgia

Unfortunately Candice, this is completely normal. Lol

I had no idea what i wanted to be or what i wanted to do until my junior year in high school. Even though time is our burden, don't worry. Just take time to sit and process. Make a list of things that describe your personality, things that you like to do, and also a list of strengths & weaknesses. Try to focus on what awesome skills you have that you can be successful in. It wont give you all the answers, but it will give you a guideline. Then create a path for it. For example, if you want to be an astronaut , the best path is going to the Air Force. It will take a lot of hard work and agility but, you will get to achieve something most people will never do.

With everything you do in life, and every major decision, just know that it will take time to process. AND......No matter how you feel or what you struggle with, just know you are awesome and you can do awesome things. Hope this helps! :)

Krystal recommends the following next steps:

  • List all the careers you're interested in
  • Create a pathway for each career.
  • Research the methods (college, classes, military, trade) to get to that career.
  • Praise yourself as much as you can. :)

Carole’s Answer

Updated Rancho Palos Verdes, California

Hi Candace: These are great questions, and almost everyone has asked themselves these two questions!! I will try and give you a few ideas that might be useful to you while trying to find out "Who you are" and "What am I doing here". 1. First of all I would say, If you haven't really researched becoming an Astronaut or a Policewomen I would give that the first preference. 2. after researching these two careers it would definitely be very helpful for you to take an Interest Assessment such as the (self directed search-SDS) to find out what are the careers that you will find interesting and you will feel good about. Then I would also take a personality assessment to find out what would be a good career for your personality. These can be taken by a private Career Counselors, or you should find them at any University or Junior college or maybe in in High Schools. I know this for a fact because that is what I did to find out my career path for Career Counselor,I was feeling as you are now and very confused. 3. After I took these assessments, and realized that I had always really wanted to be a counselor and help people find there sort of dream job or career, I went back to school and took the required classes for this career,and have been so happy working as a Career Counselor for many years.

4.I highly recommend doing this if you haven't done it yet. It is worth your time to do everything possible to find the career that fits with your interests and personality so you can be happy! after you figure out what you might like to do I would find out all you can about this career from research, and better yet from people you know who have done this particular career. Even shadow a person for a day or a week, of course with their permission, who is in the job that you might want to do.

Carole recommends the following next steps:

  • Along with the Assessments, I would also suggest a book to get titled "Do What you Are by Paul Tieger & Barbara Barron. It is full of good information on career choices and finding out about your interest and personality. These two things are very important to know, because it will help you to decide what career is best for you. I wish you luck in your research and hope you find what you are looking for. Like I said these assessments have helped many people to find the right career.

G. Mark’s Answer


There are those who search for meaning in life and decide that there is a Creator who has a Plan and that that purpose is why they are alive. Some actually believe completely that there is evidence around us that "proves" this. I'm not one of those people. I believe that there are a multitude of ways to interpret the world. But I also believe that some of those are conducive to my happiness and some are not. And the ultimate determiner of my happiness is simply my subjective impression of something I prefer and am drawn to. It may be that short-term happiness is great but some things that are short-term are not good long-term, and I myself am the judge of how valuable each of those is to me. There is one objective measure of your "success" as a living organism, and that is your own level of happiness or "joy". Regardless of whether there is a supreme being or master planner or universal trilateral committee or Giant Invisible Bunny of the Cosmos, there is one thing we are absolutely certain of, and that is how we feel about the moment at hand, and ultimately, the value of our existence. So who you are is actually defined by exactly what you're doing here. And what you're doing here is experiencing being alive. The rest is faith. Which is a good thing, but ultimately, not provable, and most likely a convenient assumption for practical purposes. As the saying goes, I think, therefore I am. Nothing else is provable, but actually, nothing else really does need to be proved.