(This is part 3 in what’s turned into a multi-part series where I look back and reflect on my various career aspirations. Find the whole series here.)
When we left off, I was heading off to my English degree at Cal Poly, ready to become this literary mastermind and accomplished writer.
And for the first two years, I followed that path. I LOVED my literature classes and writing workshops. I even enjoyed being the “minority” at a polytechnic school, where engineering, business, and agriculture ruled. I came up with witty responses to “Oh, English? So you’re gonna be a teacher?” Haha, most definitely not.
Also, I minored in Psychology, because I loved my Psych classes in high school, and — as a writer — I wanted to understand the human condition so I could write better characters. For that minor, I had to take a basic statistics course.
(I actually took two stats courses when I was a freshman — the first was basically “Statistics for Liberal Arts Majors,” where yes, we learned about calculating statistics and chi-squares and stuff, but a lot of it was more theory and how to critically read new reports or articles that cited different statistics.)
Statistics, as it turns out, is pretty cool. Seriously — for the first time in years, I saw that numbers could actually mean something; they weren’t just random things in textbooks that don’t represent anything concrete. And I did really well in the class. I surprised the professor, who wasn’t all that sure why an English major was taking her class in the first place. At some point, I even looked up the requirements to minor in Stats — but once I saw that a couple of classes required Calculus, I closed that browser window and put it out of my mind.
Then I spent a year studying in Copenhagen, which I could go on and on and on about, but for the purposes of this story, I need to tell you about a psychology course I took Spring semester. It was a tough course, more for upper-level Psych majors (who were intimately familiar with APA style, which is HORRIBLE) than people who just dabble in it. Meaning — I was a little out of my element, but I still enjoyed the material.
There was one lecture specifically on brain chemistry — the actual chemical reactions between neurons and how neural pathways are formed and all that. Very complex, in-depth stuff (and this was just an introductory overview). And I clearly remember one point in the class where all of sudden, everything just clicked. I got it. And it was fascinating.
I went to my little apartment that night and had a full-on breakdown. Brain chemistry? Neuroscience? I couldn’t seriously be considering this, could I? But suddenly I was convinced — and terrified — that I’d made a huge mistake with my English major. I suddenly had this deep desire to understand more of how the brain works, to figure out what was happening when things went wrong (i.e., mental illnesses) and how we could fix them. I was scared that I was the completely wrong career path — only not wrong, because I did and do love reading and writing, but did I really need the major for that? Could I do both? Could I just abandon every thought I ever had about who I was (creative, writer, philosophical, dreamer, not logical, not left-brained)?
I journaled a bunch of half-coherent thoughts and emailed something rambling and panicky my dad and crawled into bed, not sure what had just happened.
My dad responded by the time I woke up telling me to calm down, don’t make any rash decisions, but if this was something I wanted to explore then I should, don’t feel like I “have” to do anything, whether that’s go through with my English degree or switch majors or something else entirely. I was not “stuck” on any one path yet, there’s always time to change directions, why don’t I just try to relax and maybe take some time to figure out my options?
My dad is pretty amazing, btw.
to be continued…