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Thread: Lost: need advice

  1. #1
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    Lost: need advice

    In a planning program at a prestigious school. I am lost. Existential crises ever since I started school. Currently I am going through the motions. Planning as a topic is interesting to talk about. Yet ivory tower mentality boring. Buzz words, community planning, sustainability, economic development etc. make me sick. Getting mediocre grades, As and Bs. I can stay but I keep thinking WHAT AM I DOING HERE? WHAT AM I LEARNING? I am doing minimal work. Not motivated and I don't care. Once I graduate I won't be in debt and as unlearned as before. I can coast and finish. Get a mediocre city job with the name of my school and hope I last in a boring job long enough to look like I have real world experience before I move onto another program of study. I can apply to a new program now too, but not sure what interests me. The only positives of this program are that I like where I live and how smart the kids in other programs in the institution are. I also can avoid the world, responsibility and reality another year by staying here. Getting branded by this institution won't be the worst thing. I just feel like a fake and pretty much hate the people in my planning program. They are happy with learning buzz words, and computer programs they could easily be learning on their own or in vocational programs. I am also not good with the faculty. All but one dislike me. What would you do if you were me? Help!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Hit the eject button...work at some crappy retail job and figure out your life. If you are bored by planning in school, you certainly will not make it in the doldrums of the public sector, and quite frankly, probably can't even hack it in the private sector. Save yourself the heartache and midlife crisis and take some time for you.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  3. #3
    Is there any possibility that you might be depressed? Talk to someone at school. Any staff person you can approach? As a professor, I can tell you that they don't all dislike students, even the ones they find difficult. At most, they become frustrated when they can't motivate or engage a student. But because the professors know a student is only there for one or two years, there is rarely any personal animosity involved.

    You might want to go to your school's health department or talk to a person who's job it is to help students learn powerpoint, access technology or some sort of other similar set of skills. This sounds bigger than just disenchantment with your program or the profession of city planning.
    Last edited by Gotta Speakup; 24 May 2012 at 7:35 AM.

  4. #4
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Get out now. Go find something that you enjoy. The reason for college is to find out what you can do for the rest of your life. If planning isn't it... then find what is. There are lots of professions out there. Take some random classes in different topics. Try to hone in on what you like about classes, and try to find more that deal with those topics.

    You will find yourself and your profession. You just need to keep looking. Don't stop at planning just because you got in. Good luck!
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  5. #5
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    You didn't say whether you're a grad student or undergrad, or what got you interested in planning. If you're in grad school, you've only got to deal with only one more year.

    You might say you're not getting much out of it. I worked as a planner for about four years before returning to school for a MUP, and grad school taught me just how little I knew about planning, even though it was my major in my undergraduate years, and I had a lot of experience under my belt. Grad school really taught me how to see the big picture; how to think holistically. It's hard to explain, but it got me to completely rethink how I saw the built and natural environment, and my practice.

    Still, there was far more mental masturbation at the grad level than when I was an undergrad. It's just the nature of academia, even at the SUNY school I attended. A lot of it seemed silly during my first year, In the second, when I was working on my thesis, I was used to it. Like you, I felt a bit out of place; a misfit of sorts; I was a bit older than those who were just out of four-year undergrad programs, and felt socially excluded. I clicked much better with the quirky, creative architecture students.

    Regarding buzzwords: you came into the planning profession at a time when things are really being shaken up in a way that hasn't seen since the 1950s.. The planning profession has undergone a massive change in the past 10 to 15 years, thanks to a convergence of economic, social and environmental forces. The changes that have taken place have brought with them a boom in buzzwords, only a few of which will probably stick in the long term. I went to grad school in the late 1990s, and new urbanism, form-based codes, placemaking, and sustainability weren't even on the agenda. You can see the change here on Cyburbia; go back and check out some of the posts from the 1990s, and compare them to the subjects you see planners discussing now.

    I wouldn't say "drop out" yet. If you're an undergrad, maybe a change of scene might be good for you. Grad ... stick it out if you're passionate about the field. Your second year will be different.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Its an employer's market. If you can't fake being passionate about buzzwords, you won't find work. There are too many job-seekers for each job who can fake their way thru an interview.

    Second, what I see based on limited information looks like you might be realizing you may have made a mistake. Its great to stick things out and not quit, but in this case what does that get you? 5-10 years down the road another existential crisis.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I think what you're describing, you'll find in almost any degree program. Academia is full of buzzwords and ideas that may have little relevance to the outside world. What you may gain from the material could be completely different from what was expected or intended. School is there more to shape your thinking rather than just teaching you the nuts and bolts of how to do things. Your goal while there is to try to use all that information and make it work for you.

    I'll admit I haven't found what I'm "passionate" about yet in the field but there are a great many aspects of it that do interest me. I'd like to be passionate about something but I just haven't found it yet and may never will. Now I don't think I made a mistake since I feel like I'll be able to find my niche in the field someday but if you don't think that's possible, you may want to find something else. Just consider that planning is fundamentally similar to a lot of white collar jobs. So you need figure out whether it's planning you have an issue with or just idea of being behind a desk for the rest of your career.

    As to your question; I'd try to stick it out, though you may want to research some other degrees. Planning might not be your thing but something related to it could be and a degree would help. You never know what opportunities will come up or what direction they may take your career.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    To echo what Dan said, it would be useful to know if you are in undergrad or grad school. If undergrad, there is still time to change majors and, really, as far as college degrees, I think it matters less what your major was in terms of pursuing gainful employment. Although in this climate, that is harder and harder to secure regardless. And I donít mean to say it doesnít matter. But in general, lots of people go in very different directions from what their major was as far as professional careers. But it certainly sounds like Planning is not for you. And thatís ok Ė take some time (even a leave of absence) and see if you can find a topic or field that is more to your liking. Though to a certain degree you will have to accept that the work-a-day world will always have a degree of crappiness to it. Thatís the nature of the beast no matter what you do. There is always work to be done and decisions to be made that are really unfun and at times downright unpleasant. But if you can find something that provides enough satisfaction enough of the time, youíll be ahead of the game.

    If you are a graduate student, that is a little stickier. I canít tell you to what to do with your life, but if you are that close, I would consider finishing the degree. But I enjoy planning, so its harder for me to put myself in your shoes. But my thinking here is that you have already invested a good deal of time and money into the program and to leave now means you have nothing to show for it. If you can finish and then decide to go in a different direction, I think potential employers will see someone who saw something through and made a well thought out decision to pursue something else. If you donít finish, some may see someone who has difficulty following through and seeing things to the end. That all may not be true of yo in general, but just remember that in any field you pursue there will be increasing competition and you will need to distinguish yourself from the pack.

    Overall, though, and having gone through two graduate programs (one in planning, and one not), I identify very strongly with the dynamic of empty bullsh!t rhetoric and programs that simply train people to be professors to train more people to be professors, etc. Or subject matter and academic exercises that serve to spiral discussions constantly back on themselves, often to the degree that no one else beyond the field can even understand them. What I liked about my planning program was that it was NOT separated from real world planning challenges. We dealt a lot with real communities helping to come up with community-driven responses to planning challenges. I wrote a Professional Project and not a Thesis because it allowed me to work with real clients who had a real issue they were wrangling with. That was way more gratifying than hypotheticals and residing entirely in the theory world. Theory can be helpful and insightful but only to the degree that it informs actual planning practice. So, the reason I went back to school for planning was that it rooted me more in the actual world. But thatís not for everyone. And every planning program is not the same.

    I hope you find your way.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    This is cliche but life is too short to be unhappy. Any planning job requires a degree to get your foot in the door but once you are in you realize anyone with an AA and some patience can learn it. In that regard the planning degree itself is useless, but it is the writing and presentation skills that will help you the most. Really, the paper is more important the area of study. I am several years into a job I can't stand but I can't quit because the money and benefits are decent and there is nothing else with salary range in my region. If you don't have a kid don't sacrifice your mental health for something that won't matter in 10 years anyway. "I approved 27 trees for this parking lot - aren't I important." You will end up taking complaints from residents that, as hard as you try, can not disappear when you walk out of the office door. You will be bombarded at the bar or grocery store about little things. It will cause you to drink or take an anxiety med - all while you are in your mid-to-late twenties. You will be expected to be flawless because you are "paid by the taxpayers".

    I don't mean to be cynical or jaded but unless you own a development company or are top brass somewhere you will catch grenades from anyone who has a problem with some facet of government. Planning is far too political and you will be ruled by those with good connections rather than those with good ideas. You will work hard just do have that work shot down because some old men at a coffee shop told the mayor they don't like it.

    Get out, travel (everywhere you can - even to the next city down the road), read books, watch documentaries, help people overcome their challenges, and you will feel a lot better about yourself. I rushed into life after college. Graduation, new job, new house, and marriage. And than an MS degree because I thought it would open more doors. The only thing I don't regret in that line is my marriage. Once you have a job your vacations are three day weekends where you end up cutting your lawn and going to Applebees. Like I said before, unless you have a kid and a house college will always be there. Your own well-being is far too important to go through the motions like so many of us have. Even if you are not religious sit down and pray or meditate about it. Look ahead five years and envision where you are. Go there - chase your dream - be happy.

    Remember when you were a kid and you dreamed of being an astronaut or a fireman or a painter? Life didn't change, but rather we did. Picasso said all children are artists. How to remain an artists as we grow up is the challenge. Don't let your desire for money or a title stop you from being an artist in whatever you do.

    Good luck and you will make the right choice. But the most important thing is to smile, wherever you land.

  10. #10
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    Overall, though, and having gone through two graduate programs (one in planning, and one not), I identify very strongly with the dynamic of empty bullsh!t rhetoric and programs that simply train people to be professors to train more people to be professors, etc.
    That's a good point. Although all graduate programs teach both the theoretical and practical aspects of planning, more prestigious schools seem to have programs that emphasize the former, probably knowing their role as a feeder into PhD programs and academia. I notice this when I see studio projects; those from state schools are typically neighborhood analyses and plans, while for top ranked schools they're more frequently design exercises that often seem impenetrable.





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    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    I've been here, and you have my sympathy. I wish it had hit me in school instead of the middle of my career. Here's how I dealt with it, take it for what it's worth:

    1. Go talk to a counseler or a therapist. Saying to do what you love is easy. FINDING what you truly love is tricky and not easy at all for some of us. If you aren't passionate about planning, you'll hate it, no matter how good you are at it, and if you aren't depressed now, you will be in the future. A professional therapist, like a social worker, can work with you to help you find that passion. It's cliche, but true. If you can earn money from your passion, you'll never work a day in your life.

    2. If you see a threapist, they'll probably have you do this anyway, but journal. Write down anything that comes to your head and work on your goals, ideas, and beliefs. Don't edit, and don't share with ANYONE except maybe your therapist! Make your journal a no-holds-barred place for your brain to spew, and see what comes out. You may be surprised by the trends.

    3. If you aren't married, don't get married until you are happy. If you are, and don't have kids, don't go there until you are happy. I love Mrs. Coragus, but having a family limited my options during what I call my "Dark Times".

    4. I'm happy now, but you have to be open to some of the things that will make you happy, other peoples' opinions be damned. I left the job I had at the time and found a job I like a lot better. The change of surroundings and the job tasks helped immensely. In addition, I've taken on new hobbies that I won't get into here (not illegal, just not popular) that help a lot too.

    5. During my "Dark Times", I had some mental issues. They mostly went away after I saw my medical doctor. He put me on Zoloft. It was great help and helped me see through the haze that had covered my life. I don't know if you need to go there or not, but don't worry about it if you do. Personally, I felt like I'd finally earned my Gen-X Card.

    Good luck. Whatever you do, make sure you live passionately.
    Maintaining enthusiasm in the face of crushing apathy.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Coragus View post
    Go talk to a counseler or a therapist. Saying to do what you love is easy. FINDING what you truly love is tricky and not easy at all for some of us. If you aren't passionate about planning, you'll hate it, no matter how good you are at it, and if you aren't depressed now, you will be in the future. A professional therapist, like a social worker, can work with you to help you find that passion. It's cliche, but true. If you can earn money from your passion, you'll never work a day in your life.
    For myself, I'm not sure talking to anyone would help me find my passion. The only way I'll find it is through experience.

    How I've handled this situation is essentially go with a shotgun approach. I found a broad area of interest and I have slowly narrowed it down over the years through experience. It has helped to always have a vague idea of what I wanted as an end goal but figuring out how to best achieve it has always been a challenge. I have learned that a circuitous route seems to increase my chances of achieving that nebulous goal of mine. Even if I don't ultimately end up achieving it, I've learned a lot about myself and the world during the process so I won't regret anything.

    So I guess my advice would be to try to come up with some idea of a goal then base all your choices on whether you're moving closer or further from that goal. Just I caution moving too quickly toward a specific goal without some sort of fallback in mind in case things don't work out as planned. You don't want to be in a situation where you gambled everything and lost.

  13. #13
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    I am grateful for the responses. To clarify, I am a graduate student working towards a master. Another option I forgot to mention is taking a leave of absence for a semester or two. I can also remain in the program an extra year and begin taking classes that interest me which aren't necessarily planning related.

    Perhaps polling Cyburbians is a better route. If you have time to justify your answer please do. Choose one of the following.

    1) Remain in program and finish in a year. Figure interests out by taking time off from work and school after graduation.

    2) Remain in program. Go into job market immediatly leveraging school brand and find a niche interest along the way.

    3) Remain in program. Apply and begin another program immediatly adding to credentials and having more time to remain in academia to explore similar fields, for example law or policy oriented fields.

    4) Drop-out of program

    5) Take a leave of absence for a semester or year or longer and __________________?

    6) Remain at the University an extra year and explore other fields of study by taking their classes as finishing up planning program


  14. #14
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cyber Illusions View post
    I am grateful for the responses. To clarify, I am a graduate student working towards a master. Another option I forgot to mention is taking a leave of absence for a semester or two. I can also remain in the program an extra year and begin taking classes that interest me which aren't necessarily planning related.

    Perhaps polling Cyburbians is a better route. If you have time to justify your answer please do. Choose one of the following.[
    I can't speak for anyone else, but I have only the information in this thread. No way to know what advice to give you. If I had someone paying my freight and plenty of time, I'd take a leave of absence and take fun interesting classes. But whether that will help your attitude I have no idea.

    The planet's economy is starting to learn about resource limits. You can see the early jockeying for position for control of resources. Europe can't solve simple problems. China didn't learn from us and is likely going to do the same thing we did, likely by November which may throw the election, and if that third-rate hired clown gets elected, kiss any planning jobs goodbye for a decade minimum. I see little improvement for several years, if not a decade. That's what you'll be facing when you finish. If you can't even fake it - especially after a LOA - you'll have no chance in planning.

    .02
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

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