We’ve all been there (or will be); 18 years old about to start college and we look through the lists of majors and more often than not, blindly choose what we want to study. But seriously, how do they expect an 18 year old to be able to decide what they want to do for the next 40 plus years of their life? I’m 24, and still have absolutely no clue.
I did what a lot of people do; I picked a major that sounded fun. But I didn’t really think about what jobs I could realistically get with that degree (which ended up being practically none, at least in that field). Around came my senior year of college, and I absolutely hated my major – what was I going to do with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History? I was dead set on never attending grad school. I hated school and was ready to be done. Also, since I hated school, there was no way I was going to change my major and tack on 2 more years. And even then, I had no idea what I would have changed it to. No, I was just going to complete my last 6 hours, add a few business classes, and be done with it.
The time came, my final semester. I was wigging out about not being able to find a job – so what did I do? I settled. Settled on the first job I was offered. Mistake one. I immediately started full-time the Monday after I graduated in December 2010. Mistake two.
One month in and I already hated my job. My boss could be a complete jerk, I drove 45 minutes to an hour to and from work each day, and I felt stuck. Stuck because I was too stubborn to realize that maybe I wasn’t done with school. Stuck because I had convinced myself that maybe I’m not as smart as I thought I was. Stuck because I was scared of what I didn’t know – which at this point felt like everything.
To make things worse, I felt like I was the only clueless one. I would log on Facebook and see my friends and their awesome jobs and seemingly perfect post-grad lives… it would just make me want to throw a pity party by myself with a bottle of Zin as I cried “why me!?”.
After a few months of misery, it hit me. Why DO I have to know what I want to do? WHO says that I have to have it all figured out in my mid-twenties? My parents? Society? I knew that if I was unhappy in my current situation, then I am the only one that can fix that, even though change to me was like a four letter word. I needed change, but I was scared of change. Eventually, I did the last thing I ever thought I would do, I started looking at grad schools.
In my feeling of emotional triumph, I had decided nothing was going to deter me, so I started thinking BIG. Not the dinky grad schools near my house, not the ones I felt comfortable with. Nope, I went straight to the top – far away and definitely out of my comfort zone – New York University. And what do you know – they had it, the degree I never knew existed. As I read the description of the program it brought tears to my eyes, my name was written all over it. This was it; this is the next step to figuring out who I am and what I want.
Upon discovering the Master of Arts in Visual Arts Administration program at NYU, it was March 2011, and I realized that I’d have to wait. You could only start the program in the fall semester, and the deadline for Fall 2011 had passed. This meant I would have to literally wait a year and a half before I could take this step. So, I waited. I worked in my deadbeat job, and held in the biggest plan I had ever churned out in my mind. There was no way I could let them know I was planning on leaving; they’d fire me (I was so naive in my fears).
Day in and day out, I had a huge weight on my shoulders. And as each day passed the weight grew heavier. And amidst all of this pressure, my 4 year relationship came to a screeching halt, which did not make anything easier. Waiting was one of the hardest parts. It wasn’t until November that I realized I had to tell my boss. Not only did I have to tell him because it was an agonizing secret to keep, but I had to tell him because I needed a recommendation letter. You see – NYU is not the easiest place to get into, so I knew I needed my recommendation letters to come from some pretty powerful and higher up people. Thank God I happened to work directly under the Director of an art museum. To my shock and awe, he was ecstatic! From that day forward, he finally respected me and saw me in a new light. He realized that I wasn’t one of those kids who was just going to bounce from job to job and be stuck in Oklahoma for the rest of my life, get married way too young, and start popping out babies while I still was one – and be miserable. No, I was going places. [Side note: there is absolutely NOTHING wrong if the above is your ideal life, it just wasn’t, for me. I was not ready for those steps yet in my life. I am constantly impressed when young people are in reality very mature adults. Because I wasn’t.]
By January it was done. My application had been submitted, and all I had to do was wait… again.
When I received an email at the beginning of February informing me I had been chosen for an interview with the Director of my program at NYU, I lost it. I literally sat in my office (with the door shut) and bawled my eyes out. I had no idea why. My dream was a step closer to coming true, what was I upset about? I can admit it now – I was scared out of my mind. What did I think I was doing? I couldn’t pick up everything and move half way across the United States. No way do I have the guts for that, or the money.
Despite my hesitation, the interview went great. Slightly awkward, but I knew deep in my heart, I’d gotten in; however, I refused to admit it to myself. I even started to hope that I wouldn’t be accepted, that way I wouldn’t be faced with making the decision to actually attend or not. I wanted the decision to be theirs, not mine. I definitely wanted the easy way out of this situation. Have I not learned? The easy way out never happens.
February 27. I was sitting at work drinking my morning cup of filtered dirt (typical office coffee, yet I’ve somehow developed a tolerance for it) when I saw it glaring at me from my inbox. I had an email from the NYU Graduate Admissions Office. This was it.
I got in.
I quietly closed the email and went on with my day. No tears, no emotion. I somehow held my secret in for a week. I didn’t tell anyone. I had decided I wasn’t going to go, so I was pretty sure I was just going to tell people I wasn’t accepted. The fear was crippling me. I’m just me. I can’t do this. Maybe I’m meant to be in Oklahoma. Maybe after another couple years it won’t feel like I’m stuck.
After a week, I confided in a select few about my acceptance and decision: my best friend, my mom, and my boyfriend. With two I saw relief. With one, I saw hesitation.
He’ll always be the person who helped me make the biggest decision of my life. He was the one person who saw through my complete bs, and actually called me out on it. He knew I was terrified – yet told me regardless of my fear, how stupid it’d be to pass up this ONCE in a lifetime opportunity. I’d regret it, there’s no way I wouldn’t. I was defiant, and still refused to make the decision right there. But I was beginning to realize I had been on a path to making the worst decision of my life, and he helped steer me in the right direction.
And then, it just clicked. I finally realized – I am my own boss, and I can do literally whatever the hell I want to do with my life. And hey, I am really freaking smart – I GOT INTO NYU. There is NOTHING bad or negative about that! NOTHING. The only person holding me back was myself. I’d been so unhappy the last year and a half; so why was I about to let myself mess everything up again?
I accepted the offer. The weight instantly lifted.
I still cry a lot. But they aren’t tears of bone crippling fear anymore that take my breath away. They are tears of my final acceptance of this positive change. Change isn’t easy, no matter how good it is. They are tears representing how much I will miss those I love, and tears because I know that no matter how much I will miss them, I know I have made the right decision.
Finally, I’m doing something right. I’m doing something completely and utterly for MYSELF. I am being selfish, and putting myself first.
I still don’t know what I want my career to be, and frankly I don’t care anymore. I have plenty of time to figure it out, but I sure as hell know I’m closer to knowing than I’ve ever been. I’m only 24 (25 by the time I actually start). The next two years are going to change my life. Yes, I’m still scared, but it’s a different kind of scared. An excited, oh-my-gosh-this-is-actually-happening scared. I may actually be on the track to discovering who I am, and what my purpose is. I still have so many questions, but I’m not as concerned anymore with finding the answers.
“We must let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell
I think I’ve found what’s waiting for me, or at least part of it.
Be selfish, and don’t settle.