Are you a college student thinking about your future? Well, I am, and let me tell you: it’s scary.

It seems like many of my peers are on the fast-track to immediately become an investment banker on Wall Street, or to go to medical or law school upon graduation. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; I’m sure they will all be very successful. However, I can’t fool myself into thinking that’s what I want because it’s just not.

I will openly tell you that I have absolutely no idea what I want to do after I graduate college. Although I don’t know exactly what I want to do as a profession, I know that in my dream job, I would want to be intellectually stimulated, I would want to work with others, it would be nice if I could be successful, and I would want to make a difference in the world. Sound like a tall order? I know these requirements don’t pave an easy pathway for me, but I know it can be done.

I know this because this summer, I am completing a 10-week intership at a company with living proof. Sabrina Parsons is the CEO of Palo Alto Software and a veteran of other start-up companies. Her blog, which can be viewed here (, and her articles for Forbes Woman, which can be viewed here (, makes it clear that her path to success hasn’t always been easy, but it gives me–and it should give you!–tremendous hope for our future, wherever it may take us.

Top Four Reasons Why it’s Okay to Not Follow the Beaten Path

1. It’s incredibly exciting. Yes, you’re taking a risk–that’s what makes it fun.

2. It could become lucrative. Just look at Facebook, Twitter, or even Palo Alto Software: all of these companies started with the goal to change the way we look at the world in some way. Needless to say, all of these companies’ hard work has been rewarded.

3. It’s enjoyable. When you do something you’re passionate about, it doesn’t feel like work at all.

4. It’s fulfilling. Whether you’re helping people find a home, or helping people start their own business, you’re actively contributing to building a stronger economy, or a healthier environment, or maybe even a better world. And that’s a pretty great thing.

Curious to see just where graduates were ending up, I found the annual career report online. Last year, an astonishing 14% of graduates of my school accepted positions in management consulting or legal services, while a similarly high 13% of graduates went on to become investment bankers or financial advisors (Princeton Office of Career Services 2010-2011 Annual Report) . After that, the next most popular profession dropped off to only 3%. People clearly are encouraged to believe that their profession choices are limited to only a select few–why?

Don’t feel like you have to become a statistic (unless you actually love investment banking or management consulting–then go right ahead!). Don’t be afraid to start something new. Whether it’s a corner coffee shop, a clothing store, or a high-tech company, there’s room for it.  It’s a big world. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

Graduation image courtesy of Shutterstock


AvatarKatherine Mayhew

Katherine is a Princeton University student completing a summer internship in the Marketing Department at Palo Alto Software.