It's something that you get asked from the time that you can form words into coherent sentences, when you're about three years old: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
And, at three years old, the answers vary: a doctor, a chef, a princess. You can be anything that you want to be, so your answers change on a whim. Seeing a Kung Fu movie you inspires you to answer, "I wanna teach karate when I'm older," or your parents' occupations might prompt you to say "I wanna be a nurse, like my mom, or a construction worker, like my dad." Some days you're convinced that you want to be a princess/chef/construction worker that teaches karate in their spare time and is also somehow a doctor. Yup, all at once.
And then you grow up. Elementary school, middle school, and the four promised "best years of your life" zoom by, and the question you've been asked thousands of times by now suddenly holds a heavier meaning: out of all the careers in the world, what do you want to be?
Such a daunting question becomes further heightened when it's altered into the three words every college student has heard thousands of times by now: "What's your major?" If you're like me and started college straight out of high school, this is a question that you faced at seventeen years old—a time when you permanently inscribed that your life goals were to "be the next Jordan Belfort" and "meet Taylor Swift", fittingly, next to your ultimate mantra, "Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate" in the senior page of your yearbook.
Regardless of whether one begins college at a time where they can't legally drive past 11 PM, or if they take a gap year (or four), a lot of pressure is put on today's youth in picking the major that will likely propel them into exorbitant amounts of debt no matter what route they choose. And maybe being conscious that the economy is currently as grim as it was during The Great Depression when people regularly flung themselves off of buildings is what leads so many people into majoring in "safe" fields like math and science.
But I'm not just talking about people that enjoy math and science and have had a talent for math and science their whole lives. I'm referring to the people that are artists, writers, film makers and designers, that are repressing their passions to instead major in something that is going to have the highest likelihood of guaranteeing them a job. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is something that's now more to the effect of "What would be the smart thing to be when you grow up?" The future accountants, stock brokers, businessmen, engineers, nurses, and doctors of the world aren't necessarily a pool of people interested and committed to those fields, but rather a small percentage of people with a passion for them and a much vaster representation of people that strive for success on a rating scale of financial stability to owning multiple houses and foreign cars.
And I'm not saying the people who pursue these careers in lieu of the careers they'd be better suited in don't work hard to obtain their degrees, or are stupid in any way. If anything, this is a sensible route to take. However, the popularity of such a route speaks immeasurably of our culture: It's not about doing what you love, it's about making money. And our society is never hesitant or kind in casting a raised-eyebrow, tight-lipped, tsk-tsk of disapproval on anyone foolish enough to think otherwise.
This is something I can attest to, as I double major in English and Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology. Once a (drunk, brazen) friend of mine asked, "Did you just decide to go with every possible career that wouldn't guarantee you a job or did you mix them all together hoping that three basket-weaving majors would add up to one semi-decent one?" Estranged relatives and curious family-friends, too, have strained puzzled faces to me at family parties, wondering, "Sooo...what is it that you want to do, exactly?" Appreciating their interest, I have always responded by launching into whimsical details of how I wrote stories on coloring books as a precocious toddler, devouring books ahead of my reading level throughout my childhood, motivating my love for English, and idolized Kim Possible and Mulan as crime-fighting, bad ass heroes growing up, while memorizing the constitution and various laws for fun, stimulating my appreciation for Criminal Justice.
Before I can finish my awe-inspiring tales, though, they intercede. "Right, but, what do you plan on doing with that?" They ask, as if there are no existing jobs on this planet that could stem from the degrees I'm pursuing (journalist, detective, paralegal, crime novelist, lawyer, to name a few). And then, as if my decision on my majors has rendered me incompetent, they declare, "Well, you should really major in this instead; My friend from high school's son did, and he makes a six figure salary...money you'll never see if you major in writing, or whatever."
The off-handed comments are of course said with good intentions, but there seems to be a line between me and all the people 10+ years older than me that want be to be a mathematician/pediatrician/dentist—they've paid bills and they've been out in the "real world", and they're trying to help me avoid ending up on the streets, living in a cardboard box as a result of unemployment. But standing on the other side of the line, I'm younger, more naive, and more hopeful to think that I can make a decent living from doing the things I've always loved doing.
It's a gamble, but it's one I'm willing to take. They say that you'll never work a day in your life if you choose a job you love. They also say you'll never work a day in your life if you choose a job you love because that field will never, ever be hiring. I see it both ways. And I applaud the other people that see it both ways, too. The people that choose the risk of majoring in their passions as opposed to the ones that throw themselves into something they don't love and subsequently a career—and a life—that they hate.
It's the English majors, the Music majors, the Art majors, the History majors, the Film majors, the Women and Gender Studies majors, the Philosophy majors, that take risks in spending astronomical amounts of money for a degree that doesn't promise them a job at all, let alone a well paying one, that see the value of a life lived doing what you love, versus one doing what you're told to do.
To many people I've encountered, choosing a major and a career based on my subjectively eccentric interests is promising a future in which I am broke, broken, and going nowhere—the horror of all horrors. But to me, choosing a career, and choosing an entire lifetime dedicating my time and energy into something I am not absolutely, one hundred percent, in love with doing is the true and most horrific horror of all horrors.