You can't major in that, it's not practical."
"What kind of job are you going to get?"
"How are you going to make money?"
How many times have you heard someone say this? Have you heard a friend's parents or relatives say something like this? Has a co-worker said one of these? Odds are, if you are majoring in an artistic or traditionally non-practical field, you've heard these before.
So, now that I've probably given you a headache by reminding you of these awful statements, let me just tell you something. This is something that I realized when I got to college, and it's given me the courage to pursue a major in Creative Writing and to follow my dream of being an actor. Ready?
Let me back up a little bit and set the scene. I was inspired to write this article because all of my college years have been spent listening to these sort of things from my family members. The time doesn't matter: Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, hell, I even hear it on Flag Day. "You can't major in that, there's no money in it," my retired aunt will say. It doesn't matter when or where, somehow, someone, will find the opportunity to bring it up to me. During Freshman year of college, this really affected my perceptions of myself--and I don't think my family really understood that.
Before college, I was one-hundred percent, dead-set on being a Forensic Science major. For years! I think I was in middle school when I really "decided" I wanted to pursue Forensics (only because it seemed really cool on CSI: Miami). Then in high school, I still wanted to pursue it. I didn't really think about the realities of being a forensic scientist, it was just what I decided when I was twelve years old. When people asked me what I was going to college for I told them: Forensic science.
People practically applauded me. "There's so much money in that," my hairdresser once told me. "You must be really smart," my cousin said. "That sounds really hard, I'm so proud of you," my Grandma asserted. The approval was nice, and everyone encouraged me to follow this poorly-chosen "dream" of mine. No one really asked me why I wanted to pursue it, and if someone did, I just shrugged and said it seemed interesting to me. That was a good enough answer for my family, and it was good enough for me.
Until I got to college.
First day of college. August 2014. My first college course ever: Introduction to Forensic Science. I sat in class, listened to the professor lecture about the standards of the course. 50 minutes later? I hated being a Forensic Science major. The course was very science-heavy, and I've never been good with sciences. I barely passed high-school level Physics, how come I didn't realize it then? Anyway, after that class on the first day I realized I didn't want to be that major anymore. It was not because I was lazy, it was not because I was scared of a challenge. It was because I realized I didn't have a passion for it. I didn't want to spend the next four years working towards a degree I had no love for. So what did I do? I approached the professor after that class and, nervously and shaking in my shoes, I asked him how to switch majors.
And guess what? He didn't yell at me. He didn't insult me. He didn't show any disappointment in me. I was shocked. I honestly expected him to try and encourage me to stay in the major. "Oh, just give it another month or two," is what I was really waiting to hear. But he didn't say any of that. He was very kind, and he explained to me how to change my major through student services. Before him, no one actually let me follow my own heart. He listened to me. It was then that I realized not everybody is going to force me into things that I don't want to do.
That day, I went to the Provost and changed my major to "Undecided/Undeclared" while I explored for the rest of the semester. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Here I am now, a senior Creative Writing major with (hopefully!) a minor in Theater. I couldn't be more satisfied with my decision. Who knows how I would have turned out if I kept at my Forensics major. I would probably be extremely unhappy, a miserable, angry person. I don't want to be him. I want to be me. And to be me: I need to be happy.
Since then, I hear from my family or co-workers or whoever sticks their nose in my business, those cringe-inducing statements I mentioned above. How do I deal with it? I just tell them this: "I'm happy, and that's all that matters to me." Sometimes it impresses people, other times people will tell me that I'm being naive, or that I'm just a kid who doesn't understand how the world works. Well you know what? I do know how the world works, and that's exactly why I don't want to be unhappy. Our world puts money before happiness, it's sad, it really is. I've seen people in my family who are in jobs that they don't like, and I don't want to be like them. I want to be able to say I got a college degree in something that I really, genuinely love. And there's no guarantee that I won't make money. Just because you're a painter doesn't mean you'll be living in a half-way house eating beans out of a can. There's no rules that say artists (or whatever you may call yourself) have to be poor. I want to be an actor, and maybe someday I'll be huge. But I'll die before I give up and succumb to a job I really hate for the rest of my life. Okay, maybe that's a bit melodramatic...but I do believe it.
So what does all this mean? I bled my life story out here on the web and now what? Well, let me explain. Your happiness is more important than what your parents want or what society expects. I understand that it might be hard to go against your parents wishes, and maybe they'd even refuse to help you pay for college if you did change your major to something else. I understand. However, I'm a firm believer in putting yourself before others' expectations. If you're an Accounting major and you want to be an Art major? Go for it. If you're a English Literature major and you'd rather be a Forensic major? Go for that too! It doesn't matter what others might expect you to major in or what they want you to be when we grow up because guess what? This is our lives. This is our time to make decisions. Personally, I'd rather be happy and poor than sad and rich. (That's not to say you'll be poor if you major in something non-traditional, I'm just being dramatic).
If you can try and encourage your parents (or whoever it might be) to understand your perspective, and explain to them that you want to major in Art or English or Music or whatever it is that you want, then maybe they will listen. Honesty will get you far. If they don't listen? Well, I'd recommend doing what you want, however, you can always try and keep persuading them. They might come around to the idea eventually. If you're stuck in a situation where your parents will only pay for college if you're a nursing major (or anything that "makes money")...well, I'm sorry. I hope you can find a way to be happy. (I'd just say "oh well" and major in whatever I want but that's just me! I'm reckless).
Just some final thoughts:
I'm not bashing traditionally practical majors. I appreciate those who have a love for math or science, or nursing, or business, or anything else you might think of! I respect that. However, I respect others' happiness too. If you're stuck in a major you don't want to be in, I'd recommend changing things. I don't care what your major is, I just want you to be happy in it! I hope this has helped you too and I hope you realize that your happiness is so much more important than money--no matter who might argue that. And to (sorta) quote TLC: Go chase waterfalls, don't just stick to the rivers and lakes that you're used to.
Take care, friends~
- Shawn (with help from Skitty)