Ever since we learned how to talk, adults pried with one very specific question. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” they asked, expecting an answer out of children who can barely recite their ABC’s the whole way through.
Once upon a time that answer was simple. I used to love that question as a kid. I always had a new response on the tip of my tongue, ready to impress whoever wanted to know. One week, I was set on becoming a pop star. Next I was convinced that I would become the greatest fashion designer that the world would ever see.
I had a plethora of passions and a supportive family that encouraged whatever new idea I set my little heart on. With a history like that, it shouldn’t have surprised me that I changed my major, not once, but four times.
For some people it comes easy. They have no problems aligning themselves with only one thing, and setting for the rest of their life on it. They map out the rest of their lives from elementary school to college and everything they do revolves around that one particular dream that they’ve carried around since preschool.
But, what happens to the children with too many passions to count on one hand?
Certainly, you can’t expect them to reach a decision so easily?
Unfortunately, that’s the sacrifice I was expected to make entering my first year of college.
So there I stood, fresh out of high school at 18 years-old with only four years separating me from the so-called “real world.” I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, even though I knew plenty of things that I liked to do. And despite what most people might think, those two variables didn’t correlate.
But I felt too afraid to come in undecided. Instead of enrolling into the Division of Undergraduate Studies like I should have, I settled on an English degree. I thought that I would feel okay with “good enough” instead of experimenting with what I really wanted.
And it didn’t work.
By the second semester of freshman year, I ran around directionless. That’s how I lived my life for the past 18 years. Before, I could go wherever I pleased. I followed the places my passions led me. But I didn’t believe that strategy could work in college.
Despite my discontent with my major, I felt that it was a better choice than the other option. I didn’t want to wind up at the Division of Undergraduate Studies like all of the other Penn State University students who came in without a major in mind. I wanted to at least head in a general direction, even though I wasn’t satisfied with the choice I made.
But hiding behind a major that I didn’t like prevented me from finding the place that I was supposed to be sooner. I used English as a placeholder so that I wouldn’t need to commit to permanent major that I wasn’t sure about.
When I finally came around to the D.U.S. office sophomore year, I realized that I wasted precious time that I could have spent gaining useful advice. Penn State provides plenty of resources for students like myself who struggle to choose a major, and I wasn’t taking advantage of those resources.
But it wasn’t too late.
After switching out of English to undeclared, it felt like an immense amount of pressure lifted. And though it felt good for a while, it wasn’t too long before I started feeling stuck again. But this time I was stuck in a place without a major. I wasn’t sure which was worse: being in a place that I didn’t want to be, or not knowing where to go at all.
The pressure began to weigh on me again to choose a major and stick to it.
My D.U.S. advisor encouraged me to take classes that I was interested in. I didn’t know how to tell her that I couldn’t depend on my interests because they weren’t reliable.
My interests changed like the State College weather—unpredictable and constantly fluctuating.
Nonetheless, I gave her advice a chance.
I loaded my schedule with business classes and followed that track for sophomore year. Unfortunately, the credit limit prevented me from pursuing a marketing degree, so I needed to switch out yet again.
My trips to the D.U.S. office became a frequent part of my schedule. I might as well have gotten the keys and moved right in.
Ironically enough, the best advice that I ever received didn’t come from behind an advisor’s desk.
The best advice came from simply listening to myself. I realized that I wasn’t marrying my major. This epiphany brought so much relief. I made the mistake of burying my passions because I believed I had too many. But what I considered to be a problem really wasn’t at all.
My dreams were too big to tie to just one thing. That didn’t mean that I was indecisive or afraid of commitment. It meant that I was flexible, and I wasn’t afraid to try new things.
There are so many people who major in a specific field and end up with a completely different career later in life. Regardless of popular opinion, your major doesn’t define your future.
It’s only a guide to help you get there.