In defense of changing my major (multiple times)
I never wanted to be that girl who constantly changes her college major. I never wanted to give everyone another reason to call me flaky, shallow, confused, ditzy, or indecisive. I was always the girl with the plan, the girl who knew where she was going in life—even if that vision had changed a bit since the time I was five. Sure, I’d gone through a lot of different phases since toddler-hood. I was going to be a princess, a pony, a princess pony, a lawyer, a surgeon, a fashion designer, an actress, and, finally, an award-winning writer.
But before that comes the backstory: when I started high school, I joined the theatre company for something to do after class. Within three weeks, I was completely smitten, and I devoted all my free time to honing my “craft” while loudly declaring to anyone who would listen that I was going to be a Broadway actress, the next Barbra Streisand. Never mind that I couldn’t hold a high note or memorize a tap routine to save my life.
As I grew older, and came face to face with the realities of college and student loans and real life and rent payments, I let myself be talked out of the glitz and glamor of show business. By the time my graduation open house rolled around, I’d taken to telling everyone I was going to major in English, internally cringing each time they asked, “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher?” (Children, while adorable little monsters, terrify me to no end—needless to say, I would not make a good teacher.)
When it came time to choose classes for my first semester of higher education, my adviser suggested I try a journalism course. It was like English, sure, but minus the nasty implications of lesson plans and sticky fingers. So, with little trepidation, I signed up, and, quite suddenly and without warning, I found myself as a journalism major one sunny September day.
However, I quickly found out that I did not enjoy journalism as much as I thought I would. In fact, as the days grew colder, I grew miserable and crabby, and I decided without much deliberation that the reason for my dismal mood was that I had, and here I quote a particularly lugubrious passage from my journal, “turned my back on my dream of becoming a serious actor, and instead opted for the easy road.” I’m not sure in what world would any liberal arts degree be considered the easy road, but alas, I decided to change my major.
That familiar voice was nagging me in the back of my head. “This isn’t part of the plan!” it shrilled, and I shrugged it off, countering that just the once wouldn’t hurt anything. It would barely put me behind on my coursework at all!
So I enrolled in all theatre courses, and was once again immersed in that grand backstage world that I’d so loved during my teenage years. For a long time, it was exactly what I wanted—until suddenly it wasn’t. Yes, I loved it, but the more I glanced around at my surroundings, the more I realized how afraid I was of what was coming for me. Did I still dream of moving to New York in a whirlwind of stardom, taking the world by storm and becoming best friends with Jennifer Lawrence by the time I was 25? Sure, and there’s a part of me that always will.
But I realized that the reality that was coming towards me hard and fast was not nearly so glamorous. I did not want to spend the rest of my life fighting for scraps at auditions, hounding directors and agents and playwrights, begging for something, anything, to get me into the industry. I wish the absolute best of luck to anyone who does—you have my utmost support. But this past semester, I made my way back to the journalism department with my head bowed, changing my major for the third time.
Was I ashamed? Not particularly. Exasperated is probably a better word, because to be honest, I’m still not in love with the idea of journalism. But I do love writing, more than anything, and words have always been a constant in my life.
And I learned a few things in my adventure through countless advising appointments and paperwork. First and foremost: your college major does not define you as a person unless you allow it to do so. See, I spent so much of my time thinking that being a member of a certain program would make me a certain person. I longed to be a theatre major, in part for my love of the craft, but also because I thought that counting myself in the ranks of the theatre majors would make me a brave, quirky, endlessly interesting individual.
But you know what? The fact of the matter is that I am a brave, quirky, and, dare I say, endlessly interesting individual regardless of my college major. What I choose to do for a career, in my mind, has little to do with my identity. My passions, hobbies, dislikes, and quirks make up who I am, not what classes I take in college or what company I work for when I graduate.
And as far as my previous concerns about being called indecisive or flaky? Maybe I have been, I don’t know. I stopped caring. My new motto is to not do anything that doesn’t make me blissfully happy. And honestly, I’ve received far more messages of encouragement and respect for choosing to do what I wanted, regardless of what others might think.
At the end of the day, you have to choose to do what is best for you. Maybe your parents really want you to be a lawyer or a dentist; but if the thought of those careers sound like agony, consider your other options.
There are so many different directions your life could splinter off into, and in the very grand scheme of things, there’s little difference to be made between a degree in Business Administration or Graphic Design. You could still end up at the helm of a Fortune 500 company, even if you didn’t attend the best business school in the country (hello, Shark Tank).
Be brave enough to admit to yourself when something isn’t working, and find a way to change it.
Lizzie Benson is a blogger, a journalism student, and a cat enthusiast. She can probably out-quote you on the X-Files and she’s 99% certain she was a mermaid in another life. When she grows up, she wants to be a writer, an actor, or a vampire slayer. On her blog, www.octoberjune.com, she writes about lifestyle, fashion, DIY, and anything else that tickles her fancy.