Having done orientations all summer, I frequently asked incoming students why they chose their specific major. Although some responses included passions, many people spoke in empty buzzwords. Even worse, Exploration majors were often ashamed of admitting their decision, or in their minds, indecision. But what is so shameful about recognizing that college, and your first year specifically, is a time to do exactly that…explore? I’ve found that regarding choosing a major, students are preoccupied with work: type of work, where to work, who to work for, compensation for work, etc.; the last is most common. But, I’d like to refer back to the more childlike question we should be asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Growing up, I always thought I wanted to be a doctor. My classes and extracurriculars reflected this desire. I didn’t always enjoy what I was doing, but I was sure I wanted to be a doctor…or at least I thought I did. Truth is, I rather arbitrarily chose ‘doctor’ when I was really young, and adults and peers latched on to the idea because it was “impressive.” So, I went with it, and not many people questioned the ‘why’ of my decision because they were too fixed on the occupation’s status, and, to be honest, so was I.
By the end of high school, when it was time to apply to college, I was beginning to question my doctor dreams. However, I was too scared to admit this, to both myself and others, so I quietly picked Public Health as my major and chose Ohio State (THE Ohio State??). Pretty early on I questioned my motivations for majoring in Public Health. I quickly realized I didn’t want to be a doctor anymore, now that I had a better understanding of what it meant to be a doctor. I thought maybe I could salvage the major and do health policy, but this led me to my second realization: I was choosing majors based on occupations that had fixed education paths (i.e. undergrad + med school + residency = doctor). I needed to get out of this headspace in order to figure out what it was that I wanted to do, or, more importantly, who I wanted to be.
I took the time to explore academically my second semester with a GE in the Geography department (Geography 3701 – Making of the Modern World for those that are curious) because someone I looked up to told me it completely changed the way she saw the world. I wanted that feeling. That is what I wanted to get out of college, so I chased that feeling. I got that and so much more when I changed my major to Geography at the end of second semester.
I know that not everyone desires to be a geographer. We need doctors, lawyers, and engineers, but we need artists, teachers, and academics, too. As long as you think of your major like I think of geography, you’re off to a good start. Don’t think of your major as what you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life, but rather how you will be doing it. Four people could be passionate about environmental justice, for example, but one decides to be an environmental engineer, another an environmental policy analyst, the third a community organizer in an area greatly affected by climate change, and the last an artist whose work changes the way people feel about the environment. Same cause, different strategies.
It took a lot of time for me to be comfortable with having a major with no set career path, but I don’t want to conceptualize the future in a fixed way. I want to be, do, study, learn, explore, and create. My dad always told me, “If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s the dream. That’s my goal. That’s my future.