Flash back to fourth grade. I’m sitting eagerly in my unbalanced plastic chair, ready to present what I’m convinced is the greatest social studies fair project of all time. It’s a biographical analysis of Walt Disney as told through stick-on felt and crooked Crayola handwriting.
Everyone else had chosen the obvious candidates: George Washington, Amelia Earhart, Martin Luther King Jr., etc. All notorious and deserving of their historical greatness, sure, but I had stumbled onto someone special. At the humble age of nine, I had unearthed a national treasure.
Animation became my obsession. It was this insane process of creating something out of nothing that I found wholly magical and inexplicably awesome. It was my entire identity for years; I was the Disney girl, the cartoonist, future animator extraordinaire. And I loved it.
Naturally, I’d considered several art colleges when the time rolled around. The Rhode Island School of Design, SCAD, even CalArts loomed in the possible distance, but I was born a gator even before this love had descended upon me. When my acceptance letter to the University of Florida arrived, I knew that was it. I was third generation; no way I could turn down an incredible opportunity like this. I was going to the school of my dreams to major in the field of my dreams. I signed on as a visual art studies major my freshman year and mentally prepared for my life to finally begin. This was my very first step to doing the only thing I’d ever wanted to do. Hours of intensive studio study, figure drawing, direct observation, everything was on the horizon and nothing was going to stop me. I was in the freaking zone, man.
The thing about college that no one told me (rather, that I’d never bothered to look up), is that undergrad years are riddled with tons of gen eds and other coursework you probably never wanted, nor will likely need. Instead of diving right in to drawing like I’d intended, I first had to take a crash course in art research. And then another in contemporary exploration. Oh, and then sculpture. And art history, followed by a study of modernism. When does the madness end you ask? Here’s the thing—it doesn’t.
That realization dawned a lot later than it should have. I insisted to my friends, and myself, that I was enjoying it all, that an art major was everything I’d hoped it would be. But here’s the cold truth: I was completely and utterly miserable. Every second spent studying obscure modern art or building inflatable sculptures felt like a giant, boring gash to my chest. I was The Artist—that was my entire identity. But if that was the case then why did I hate it so much?
See, I’d idealized an entire field into a small, condensed area of concentration. There’s obviously so much more to the arts than singing anthropomorphic cartoons. Basically in this scenario, I was the nerdy guy across the street, and art was the manic pixie dream girl I’d spent my entire life fantasizing about. But reality hit like a meteor, hard, fast and scattering the last shreds of my delusion all across the very canvas I’d put off painting until the night before. I didn’t want to be an animator. In fact, I didn’t want to be an artist at all.
It took weeks before I finally got the courage to talk to an advisor. In reality it shouldn’t have been that hard, but I felt so much like a failure. I remembered that little girl who loved magic, who believed it was real because a mouse made it so. And here I was, walking away from all of it—feeling both liberated and deeply ashamed.
I explored a couple different options, not wanting to stray too far from the creative field. I looked at marketing, advertising, even business administration but nothing stuck. It was so nerve-wracking; spring was steadily passing by and the longer I waited, the harder it would be to change my major.
Cue summer, the semester of new beginnings. I was taking Acting for Non-Majors, a random class I’d chosen to fulfill a humanities requirement. Another gen ed, seemingly useless, your standard “easy ‘A’” if there ever was one. I wasn’t expecting to learn something that fulfilled me in a way no art course ever had, let alone figure out where I stand in the mess that is undergrad. But I did. And the solution was so glaringly obvious I’m kicking myself as I write this.
I was a staff writer for my high school newspaper way back in the day. I’ve always been an avid reader and writing simply followed suit. I love it, I always have, but it so paled in comparison to animation I’d completely overlooked it all these years. This acting course was when it finally, finally hit me.
Acting is storytelling. Animation is storytelling. Storytelling is the thing that I love.
I booked an advising appointment with the journalism college the very next day. By the end of the semester I’d officially changed my major to telecommunications production with a minor in theatre. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
Maybe it took my entire life, plus a fair few existential crises to realize this, but a major can’t define a human being. If I’d considered that earlier I probably could’ve saved myself a lot of heartache, but I also know if I’d never tried, I would’ve spent the rest of my life wondering “what if.” Now, I’ll never have to wonder. And that’s one killer feeling to have.