Alumni Voice

When IDK is OK

by Melissa Gwon

“I don’t know” is a phrase that my family and friends are very familiar with me saying. An answer for what I wanted for dinner, what movie I wanted to watch, and even where I wanted to go to college. One year, my brother gifted me a sweatshirt that simply said “IDK” on the front. Although funny for others, I always considered my indecisiveness to be a setback. I did not understand how people could be so sure about their career from such early ages. There must have been something wrong with me. I thought this until I joined the Explore Program, that is.

The Program taught me that being undeclared did not mean I had no clue what to pick for my major. It meant that there were so many paths that interested me, I could not pick just one – not yet at least. When I joined Northeastern, I had interests across the board: business, teaching, architecture, physical therapy – the list went on. My fear was that I would pick one, start taking a bunch of classes in the major, and then realize I hated it when it was too late. Luckily for me, the Explore Program was the exact place I needed to be. The entire program was built to help people like me take a deep look into every option and piece together the perfect plan to sort it out.

During my freshman year, I took all the Explore Program and Northeastern opportunities to help me pick a major and searched on my own. I was on a mission. I ultimately narrowed down my major to math and business. If it wasn’t for Kim and the program, I never would have heard of my eventual major: A combined major of mathematics and business administration with a concentration in finance (perfect!). After confirming my major, I assumed my big life decisions would be over for a while. I would take the ‘W’ and coast to graduation. But I quickly learned that they are never over. Just take a job for example. I could pick my career path, but what kind of office did I want to be in every day? What kind of company do I want to spend my time working for? What industry did I want to support? Where do I want to live? The decisions are endless.

Here’s the truth I learned: we never stop making decisions. In the past, this revelation would have terrified me. But the Explore Program gave me the tools to navigate difficult decisions even if that decision was not about my major. I used the co-op program to further my exploration into a career and picked three in different positions and industries and with varying office cultures. I realized that I like working for a company that sells tangible products, where I am surrounded by people that feel like a team, where I feel like we are doing good rather than just making a profit, and with the ability to move around within the company to continue learning new things.

Because of my third co-op, after graduation, I had the opportunity to apply for the FLDP (Finance Leadership Development Program) rotational program at Johnson & Johnson. I jumped at this opportunity because it meant that I would rotate to two different roles within two years, graduate the program, and then rotate to a third role. A goal in these rotations was to give me experience in two completely different roles in two sectors within the company (Johnson & Johnson is split into three sectors: Consumer, Pharmaceuticals, and Medical Devices, and there are many brands and companies within the sectors).

Now, only three years after my Northeastern graduation, I can say that I supported two medical device companies, pharmaceuticals, and corporate within J&J. I worked in New Jersey, California, and Massachusetts. I now have experience in financial planning and analysis, commercial finance, and supply chain finance. I have business partnered with finance, sales, marketing, and supply chain people from my level all the way to the VP/CFO level. And that is just three years in! One aspect that drew me to work at J&J was its focus on employee development and the encouragement to consistently rotate. Roughly every two and half years, I will get to explore new roles that challenge, interest and inspire me while building new connections and constantly learning. It’s my very own professional version of the Explore Program that fits me perfectly.

Immediate indecisiveness is not a setback for me. I need to weigh my options and choose the best one for me in my own time, for everything. The Explore Program did not just help me down the path of a major, it helped me to learn the tools to make decisions in everything in life that comes my way, because decisions never stop. It taught me to welcome uncertainty, to feel comfortable with the unknown, and the confidence to take the leap when I know what I want. So yes, ‘I don’t know’ is in my vocabulary when faced with a decision that includes an overwhelming amount of options. But with each ‘I don’t know’, I will explore my options and make the best decision for me. I will never truly be out of the Explore Program and that is one thing I know for certain.