Ask me what I want to pursue as a career, and I’ll tell you a specific career, with a specific plan on how to get there, and why I’m passionate about it and how I see it as changing the world. If you had asked me that question as a high school senior, I would have said I wanted to be a biomedical engineer, probably, and while I wouldn’t say it, it was because I wanted to make money and biomedical engineer sounded like something that probably used more biology than chemistry or mathematical equations that I wouldn’t understand than say, a petroleum or civil engineer. Shows you how much I understood about engineering.
How did I get from “Engineer-because-it-makes-money” runoff to a specific career goal? I went to college. It started with me not being accepted into the College of Engineering at A&M and then followed through with an honors program, and regardless of the pitfalls, taking more courses even when I wasn’t certain I even wanted to be in college.
Texas A&M has accepted me and offered enough financial aid to survive without much trouble, so despite being accepted elsewhere as an engineering major, I went in as an English major to A&M. My scholarship had required me to attend a one hour course my first semester, where we met with other students on the same scholarship and were groomed with healthy eating tips and studying tips by our scholarship coordinators. At one point, a guest lecturer came in and told us to turn to each other and describe what we would be doing if we weren’t in college. It was Wednesday afternoon. I was tired. I was hungry. I turned to my classmate and pronounced that if I weren’t in college, I could actually travel and figure out what the heck I wanted to go to college for, if at all.
This was coming from a girl who had promised her father she would be attaining not only a Bachelor’s degree but a Master’s and a PhD as a four year old. The problem was that college had always been this goal. Get accepted to college. Get a scholarship. Get a degree. Get a job. Life will be good as a result. It was part of an equation and I had never been good with equations. I didn’t know what I wanted to really study in college. I had thought English when I blandly thought about being a writer. I had thought engineering when people told me I wouldn’t make any money. I had gotten to college and found neither were viable. Exactly what was I supposed to do now? Quitting sounded like a good idea, and learning alternatively somewhere. School was suddenly boring, after years of me enjoying reading textbooks and gaining knowledge, I found the process mind-numbing. I didn’t know what to do.
So after a horrendous first semester in an English honors program, I knew that I could not stay an English major. I knew dropping out of college wasn’t yet the right option for me because while school had turned boring, one semester wasn’t enough to convince me that my old standby for learning was officially kaput. I signed up for classes I actually thought I might enjoy. Philosophy, sociology, anthropology, a (good) English class, and a human geography course. I did fear the potential ill-fate of my human geography course though, as a physical geography course the first semester had been part of the reason I was so bored with school, but I told myself that this was part of the learning process – pushing myself outside your comfort zone and forcing myself to learn. The course description had sounded interesting and if it even gave me an inkling of where to go next for my next major – even if it was very much in the opposite direction of geography – I felt like I could learn a lot.
By the end of our first lecture, after an inspiring introduction by my professor that there’s a “geography of everything,” I was hooked. It took me several more weeks to switch over into geography, but I knew from day one it was the major for me. Anyone who had seen my first semester grades in physical geography was surprised – including the assistant dean of geography who sternly reminded me that I would have to take more physical geography courses throughout my years in school. I promised her that I had seen the light – while I loved human geography more than physical geography, I now understood its importance in affecting what I enjoyed studying. Thankfully, she was convinced enough to give me her stamp of approval.
College isn’t the only way to learn. You can travel to different countries and learn about new cultures. You can pick up a job locally and learn a trade. You can spend all day at the library (hello Mr. Bradbury) and read books in no specific order, following no specific lesson plan. But part of the learning process that undergirds all of these is sticking to it. When I was bored of school, I thought it was just because my public university wasn’t challenging me enough. Actually, it was because I had allowed myself to check out entirely of learning. I wasn’t writing, so there was no introspection, allowing me to learn about myself. I wasn’t reading books, a favorite pastime, which prevented me from broadening my mind.
I hadn’t reached out and made many new friends at my school due to a mixture of, let’s face it, snobbery and shyness, and thus kept me from learning about other people and from them. I had completely checked out. In high school, I had been a top student, and I thought that I was lightyears ahead of most of my peers in the learning curve. My public university wasn’t hacking it in challenging me. But the problem was that I had decided that because I had learned a lot in high school, I didn’t have much more to learn in college. Then, when school failed to engage me (like it stood a chance), I just stopped trying. I watched a lot of Netflix and did a lot of sleeping.
But by sticking to college, I was woken up by not just geography, but the other courses I was taking. Some of those courses are my most formative. They’ve inspired me to start my own research courses and helped me discover that career goal I’m so darn passionate about. I know what I’m doing in life.
I’ll be applying to graduate school soon, a journey many people deem the hardest endeavor I will ever take. Funnily enough, I find myself in a similar place in high school – I now have good grades, a major I love, and a few accolades. But this time I don’t think it’s just because I’m “smart.” This time, I know it’s because I stuck to the learning medium I had chosen and forced myself to take challenging courses and actually rise to those challenges. As I look towards graduate school, I do not need to be at the most expensive school. I do not need the school population to be filled with my idea of “smart” students. I know that as long as I keep myself awake and ready to learn, I will never lose my passion. That’s something that comes from within and a determination to never stop learning – no matter from what class, what person, or what experience.
Click HERE to win a free copy of Steinberg’s book!