It started in second grade with a joke: “When I grow up, I want to become a hobo.” Although it was spoken more to myself than to anyone else, the fact remains that the question of who we want to be when we grow up is often posed as early as elementary school. While it can be argued that grade school is a place not only to learn reading and math, but also to acquire essential skills for a job like time management and problem-solving, at the time, I had little idea of what exactly constituted a career. I had little concept of a salary, recession was a word with too many S’s for me to spell correctly, and personal fulfillment was something found more easily on the playground than in the professional world.
A few years later, I changed my prospective career for the first time, graduating from hobo to cartoonist (which, to some people, are the same thing) when a teacher said she liked my drawing of a parrot, its plumage colored like the rainbow. I liked drawing, but what spurred me on the most was that there was another person–a credible one, at that–who encouraged my interest. The same applied to my passion for writing, which emerged in middle school. I did not contemplate becoming a writer until my sixth grade English teacher wrote “Excellent” on my memoir about my first piano recital and my eighth grade humanities teacher praised my essay likening Harry Potter to Abraham Lincoln. Unlike becoming a cartoonist, which I considered only because I was told I would be good at it, I genuinely enjoyed the idea of being a writer. (Why else would I be writing this article?)
Nevertheless, my father was an electrical engineer who tried his best to instill in his daughter the idea that pursuing a career in STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) was the best way to ensure future financial security. Even though other people might say to pursue dreams regardless of the risk, practicality was continually valued over passion in my household. And while I do not want to dismiss the importance of English class, I heeded his words as I entered high school. If anyone asked, I would say that writing was merely a hobby, “maybe a minor when I got to college,” but nothing more.
Gynecologist, software engineer, and businesswoman were some of the things many of my friends aspired to be. I, on the other hand, decided that I wanted to become a psychologist after being intrigued by the Stanford prison experiment and Milgram’s obedience experiment. It was science-related, which made it more favorable in my parents’ eyes, and I was actually interested in the prospect of studying mental illnesses. Even though some of my other relatives pointed to the high unemployment rates of psychology majors, I was deadset on the job. I took aptitude tests that only confirmed my compatibility with the career, did research into colleges especially strong in the subject, and even snuck into my school’s HOSA meeting to attend a lecture a psychologist was giving.
In hindsight, however, it’s easy to call what I had then infatuation. When I finally took AP psychology, my love was killed before the first week was over. The talk of neurotransmitters and Wernicke’s area bored me. My plan B was taking AP chemistry (which I had at least enjoyed on the honors level in tenth grade) and then becoming a pharmacologist of some fashion, but that dream ended similarly and quickly. Part of this can probably be attributed to the teacher, who was more competent at conducting research than educating high school students, but another cause was being surrounded by highly driven people–which made me realize how meager my interest was in comparison.
It was around this time that two fortunate things happened. The first is that I rediscovered my passion for writing, both creative and journalistic. I attended writing programs and worked for magazines that grew my love rather than diminished it. I’m still not sure if I’ll become a writer, but I haven’t put it out of my mind just yet.
The second is that I stepped into my AP macroeconomics class. Economics is a subject I never imagined myself being captivated by, much less pursuing as a career. But unlike chemistry and psychology, as I learned more about it, my love only grew and grew. I can’t say that I know for sure what I’ll be when I graduate from college–Forbes says that I’ll probably have “15-20 jobs over the course of [my] life,” anyway. But through my various experiences, I have learned not just what I am interested in, but also, perhaps more importantly, to keep an open mind.