My parents hoped I would become accountant out of college. I didn’t like accounting and I didn’t want to be an accountant.
Most students enter college not knowing what in the world to do. For a good 3 years I was an undeclared member of the Arts & Sciences department, maybe out of protest, but probably out of searching for what really fit me.
I think everyone has friends that just know what they want to do throughout life—my sister is like that. She knew what she wanted to do when she was eight and in art class. That didn’t descend
from the heavens for me—I thought a lot about what I wanted to do. High school wasn’t a good litmus for me, because I was just pretty okay at everything. My dad has always told me that you don’t have to be smarter than everyone, you just have to work harder. I think that’s true. He also told me to be an accountant. I didn’t think I should.
My school culture-shocked me. I wasn’t prepared for the work load, I wasn’t prepared for the hours, and I wasn’t prepared for making a decision that would change the rest of my life. Up until then, most of those decisions were out of my control. We didn’t pick our courses in high school, and there I was trying to plan out the rest of my year without any idea if I was making a good decision.
I started off with a good set of freshman level courses—English, Psych, Spanish, Computer Science, and a couple others. But there were those same people—the engineers, the teachers-in-training, the artists, who had their entire four years planned out before they had even stepped into their dorm room.
I dipped my toe into nearly all potential majors. I took Comp Sci thinking that I could do that—then barely pulled a passing grade toward the end. My heart couldn’t take the suspense and I moved onto Linguistics of all things. I’ve always loved language, and my appreciation had grown since I had completed the other courses. Seeing the way that different languages interacted, how language tapped into anatomy, psychology, physics, geography. I took one course, spent several sleepless, anxiety-racked evenings with people I didn’t care for, and ended up shifting to chemistry. Chemistry turned to mathematics, mathematics turned to Spanish.
I spent more time in other disciplines than the one at which I arrived. It was English.
My parents were not happy that their son was studying English. No matter how much I tried to sell them the interdisciplinary benefits, the employment rate, my own abilities—to this day I think they’re both a little bummed that I studied English. Despite that I found something that I genuinely enjoyed (I think) and that I was pretty good at (so they tell me).
But that weight of my theoretical career oppressed me. It’s true—there are some majors in college that you can study and there are jobs begging for you. I had an English professor of Shakespeare tell me that he stopped inviting people to study English. He told me he felt guilty because he felt that there were no careers for writers or artists or scholars. They didn’t have the same kind of opportunities that existed for him in the 70s.
I haphazardly blew off what he had said and decided to join anyway, despite people’s warnings, despite my parent’s apprehension, and despite my own fears. I read a lot of books, I wrote a lot of papers, but I still didn’t feel as fulfilled as I hoped.
Then a now-friend of mine talked to me about what he was studying. He called it technical writing and it blended all the things that I was interested in. I was able to meet interesting, hyper-intelligent people and write and edit for them. It was a profession that existed for people like me who had been doing things like helping their non-writer friends all along. My gestalt-career was forged. I enrolled in as many classes as I could to get the credits I needed. I learned as much as I could, and became one of the best members in that department.
I think opportunities and paths like this exist for everyone. It’s kind of the horror of our times that one seemingly has to go to college in order to fill entry-level positions and appease a middle-class life expectations. There’s a grimness to the idea that in order to live like I had growing up, I have to study and work even harder than my parents did to get to their current positions. But that’s where we live and there’s no use belly-aching while your debts pile.
Find something that interests you in a broad sense, for me English, and honed it down to a marketable job. I wouldn’t tell you the blanket statement “you need to study something that will make money”—there are plenty of ways to make money. College should be a place where you study what you love in order to attain some higher understanding of self. Journalists spin the narrative that this conception died with the advent of the internet. But I don’t think this way. I think that markets exist for the Art History major, for the Music major, and for the Engineer. But that it’s a matter how hard do you look, what lengths will you go to, and how much passion you have. If you are good at what you do, then people will take notice eventually. But people can tell when you’re feigning interest in them, and they can tell when you’re feigning interest in your career.
So please, study what you love. There’s something out there for you, you can make money while doing it, and you owe it to yourself to find it.