A student seeking advice writes:
Have any of you ever hit a block in your schooling career and are no longer happy with the degree you were once striving to get? What did you all do in order to remedy that? Did you simply change degrees? Go to a different school? Drop out? How did you learn what was right for you that would make you happy in the world of academics?
- Looking For My Place
I know this place you are in well. I have changed career paths and college majors many times. It is a frustrating and often soul-crushing experience to have the feeling that you should be doing something else. Indeed, it is the condition that Henry David Thoreau describes:
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
The last thing I want for you dear Looking is for you to complete your college experience having your song still left inside of you begging to get out. God has placed within you certain talents and abilities in a unique combination that no other person in the past, present or future will ever have. You were put here for a purpose and it is up to you to explore and develop these gifts by becoming the best version of yourself.
Let’s keep something important in mind here. It’s college. Yes, it is your life right now so you should try to make the best of it while you are in it, but at some point in your life, college will become a distant memory. College is meant to be a formative experience in which you develop new attitudes and insights that will serve you well for the rest of your life.
Some people have the idea that college is where you will learn all of the things you will need to know in your future career. College is a place to learn and grow as a person, but it is only a beginning not an end. Surprisingly, to many employers it doesn’t matter what you major in if you have the right skills and attitudes. The subject matter content learned is less relevant than the foundational concepts you master and carry forward. This requires having an attitude of being a life-long learner. An attitude that no matter what comes my way, I am competent and capable of solving problems that I don’t necessarily know the answer to. That point is the key to your dilemma, Looking. Whatever your major is, if done right, it will expect you to solve problems that you don’t know the answer to when you start. To me, that is the very purpose of attending college, developing that attitude.
Many people wind up doing work outside of their college major. Often this is because they majored in something they love, only to find that the job market has few opportunities available in that particular area. According to a recent Forbes article, most of the college majors that are least likely to have jobs available are found squarely in the arts and humanities. This stands in stark contrast to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math degrees, which are booming.
So what are creative people to do? You are visiting with someone who has always loved the arts, particularly music, theater and the visual arts like drawing and painting. But according to the advisors of my youth, it is very difficult to make a living doing those things, so I chose to train for something more practical, computers. The amazing thing is that the practical thing I do – computers – in recent years has converged with the artistic things I love. Finally, I get to do both and I couldn’t be happier.
I have always advised my students to marry whatever it is they love with computer technology and you can’t go wrong. That technology expertise acts as an insurance policy that insures you will never go hungry. But when the conditions are favorable, you get to do what you love as well. That, in a nutshell, is why I helped to develop the Digital Media Technology degree at Kansas State University – Salina. Now I get to do what I love, and as the program grows I envision that I will be joined by other creative faculty members who will help us to expand in directions we could never imagine.
So back to your original questions about being happy with your major & your life. Happiness comes from attitudes inside of you. Take it from someone who has spent years trying to rearrange external things to be happy; if you depend upon external circumstances to be happy, you will be continually discouraged. There are four levels of happiness, and it is the lowest level that depends on things outside of yourself. The rest come from within. I wrote more about finding happiness a few months ago and I encourage you to take a look at that as well.
My best wishes to you, Looking. I know there is a song inside of you begging to get out. The question is whether or not you will find ways to let it out where you are, or if you will keep looking for better and better places to have that happen.