I was never one of those kids who “just knew” what they wanted to do. As a child, I told people I wanted to be a lawyer for quite a few years before I figured out what a lawyer actually was. Then, it switched to brain surgeon, then schoolteacher, then judge, and then to a psychologist. I’d love to say I figured it out by the time I came into college, but that was ABSOLUTELY not the case. I started off as a Neuroscience major, then switched to Math/Philosophy Pre-Law, then to Psychology, then finally settled as a Chemistry major (though sometimes, I wish I went back to Neuroscience). I’ve taken classes in just about every range of subjects, and I can confidently tell you it was NOT for the purpose of receiving a liberal education, though that was a lovely side effect. Sure, it sounds like I’ve had a crazy and unproductive education thus far, but I 100% disagree. With each class or path I studied that didn’t feel right for me, I began to see where I did want to go.
Being someone who didn’t know what she wanted was difficult, anxiety triggering, and frustrating at times. I knew so many people who were planning out when they’d be taking the MCAT, which law school they plan on attending, the classes they’re taking senior year, when we were only a semester deep into college. If you’re someone who knew what they wanted from the start and were sure of it, then that’s absolutely great, but frankly, I think it’s nearly impossible to know the career path you want at age 17 or 18. I mean, isn’t that a big part of what college is, self-exploration?
With each year passing, however, I began to feel less inclined to continue my unintentional journey of “self-exploration,” and more like I needed to “figure it out.” I knew that I absolutely loved chemistry, and because of the fact that I loved it, I truly had motivation to want to excel in every chemistry course I took. However, I still had little to no clue what I wanted to do with a degree in chemistry. Should I be a chemistry teacher? Go into research and think about taking the GRE soon for Ph.D programs? Do I want to go to med school? And what if I don’t want to do any of those things, am I just wasting my time working for a degree?
I half-heartedly decided I’d do best with going the research route, so I spent time in research labs while still taking courses in biology and psychology out of interest. I had an awesome mentor and research group, but with each day passing, I began to realize that research wasn’t what I wanted to do. I loved writing, but I hated writing research papers – no way did I see myself writing a 50-paged thesis full of graphs and tables. I hated statistics, and I knew that would be a massive part of going into research. I wasn’t too passionate about entering data and collecting results, either (though some of it was actually really interesting). I enjoyed doing poster presentations and explaining the study to people, but I just didn’t see myself being someone who would conduct it for a career. I love reading research articles and hearing about new findings, but that’s as far as I’ll go. Once again, I was in another rut, but this time, I was going into my junior year. I’d have to decide soon.
After having a lot of time to decide over summer, reviewing the classes I took, and doing more volunteering at a hospital for “experience”, it became crystal clear to me: I want to pursue medicine. I took all the required pre-med classes “accidentally” – not because I was ever on the pre-med track, but I genuinely liked those courses! Another one of my passions lies in improving the mental health field, but I knew I didn’t want to be a therapist or anything like that. Medicine is absolutely a great way to make a direct difference in health care. IWith my crazy career search, I ended up finding a field to go into that’s perfect for me and what I love.
I ended up having to take a semester off for health reasons the following semester, and panicked like crazy over “not graduating on time.” In those months, however, I truly understood that it really isn’t that important to rush education. Sure, if you’re doing well and you’re eager to move to the next stage, then by all means, go ahead! But, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I will not be able to graduate in my planned time, and that’s totally okay. I probably could have still had I known what I wanted from the get-go, but I didn’t, so I fell behind on my major. And that’s not something I need to be ashamed of. Because now, finally, I am sure of what I want to do instead of wondering if I made the right choice shakily planning out my life out at a young age. So anyway, if you take something from this article, take that it’s not the end of the world to take longer than everybody else to decide what to pursue. Also, it’s totally okay if you didn’t take the second half of physics yet, or the MCAT…. Or maybe I’m just reassuring myself again.