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Oh, you know it when you hear it. The big question dreaded by nearly every high school senior who dreams of a life in the equine industry. “So what are you planning to do next?”

Girl with horseYou hate it because there’s no good answer. And with graduation right around the corner, you probably hate it even more because you’re hearing it practically every day. Your parents and teachers say “follow your passion,” but they also say “choose a job with flexibility” and “choose a job with security.” And what the heck is “upward mobility” anyway??

You and your fellow barn rats (a.k.a., horse-oriented youth) have as many different interests, motivations, preferences, and aptitudes as any other group of people. What you share is a love of the genus Equus (horses, donkeys, zebras).

You’re lucky though, because anything you can do in the big world, you can do in the horse world. Think about different types of businesses — design, manufacturing, sales, service, or professional. They all exist in the equine industry, and companies come in almost any size, from one person to hundreds. This is good because you’re likely to find a personal niche (a what? It’s a job that is totally yours).

But it also means you’ll need specialty training. Even though jobs in the horse business often go to people who “speak horse” over those who don’t, you need both solid equine knowledge AND real career skills to nail that perfect job.

No wonder that big question throws you for a loop. The grown-ups have great advice, but seriously, is it really going to land you a career? No. But it might land you as a college freshman in my office, and four years later, with an Equine Business Management degree that will be crucial for turning an education into that all-important first job.

Believe it or not, college will be really different from high school. It will be less about learning facts and figures, and more about becoming the competent, confident professional that we know you can be. And yes — about finding direction. No, no, hang on! Don’t panic on me yet. No pressure.

Let’s start with being a competent, confident professional. You can get a job mucking stalls today, or sticking on price labels. If you’re really good at one of these jobs, you might become Chief Stall Mucker or Head Label Sticker.

But to get one of those real jobs people want you to get requires 21st-century skills, which actually change your career options. At a good school, you will learn all those things people are after you about. You’ll be a better candidate when you go job hunting. You’ll find a better job. The job you get will probably pay better, with a chance to move up sooner.

One day your direction will hit you out of the blue. You will suddenly (well, for some people it’s more gradual and sneaks up on them veerrrrryyyy slooowwwlyyyy) realize that one course, experience, or internship stands out from all the rest.

You’ll notice that it has become this thing that gets you out of bed every day and you can’t stop thinking about it. You will know it. This is the thing that has the power to change your life. That, my friend, is your personal niche. It will not steer you wrong.

Yes, you need strong skills in a field you are well-suited for. Add professional standards and the motivation to meet them, and the rest will fall into place.