As I sheepishly closed my computer, I hung my head low. For the fifth time in my college career I was changing my major. Some I got bored with. Some I learned what the actual job would entail. Some I realized I loved the major, but that I had no chance of getting a “real” and “stable” job. It turns out, I enjoy the learning part of college a lot more than the what to do after college part.
I think it comes from the eternal fear of screwing up. What 18-year-old really knows what he or she wants to do with their lives? Until recently, their whole lives have been built around the decisions their parents made. And throughout their whole high school experience, they are indoctrinated with the idea that college will make or break the rest of their lives.
I realize in many regards this principle is true. But truth does not fix the existential crisis I have every time I think about my major. I’m realizing that even though classrooms are an important part of preparing for a job, classrooms can’t teach real-world experience. For instance, I love the ideas and theories behind political science. Not only that, but my college has an amazing political science department.
But I’m worried that after my degree is earned–after I get finished with the ideas part and have to start the do part–I won’t like what the job of political science is. Real political science is not just learning and discussing ideas. It is a fickle, stressful, and unpredictable career that can be made or broken on a single day. It’s a good job. It’s a job that will always be around. But I am not sure if it’s a job that I could stomach for a 50-year career.
But on the other end of the spectrum, I am met with an equally difficult set of facts. I love ideas and the words used to express ideas. I should probably pursue a career in something like journalism, or podcasting, or just plain writing because when I am writing papers in my English classes, or when I am discussing an idea and principles in history classes I feel liberated. But then, one of my problems is that careers in writing and ideas come with no guarantee. But not only that, my mind does not lend itself well to expertise.
My thoughts tend to bounce around and fixate on a topic for a number of months, only to bounce to something new. For a while it was theology, then it turned to literature, then to politics, now onto longform journalism. Even when I dive into a topic, I can’t focus on any one thing. I know that to be a good and groundbreaking writer on any topic, one needs to have expertise. Ta-Nehisi Coates is an expert on talking about race in America, Ezra Klien explains policy succinctly and understandably, and I know just enough to write a paper on almost any topic, but not enough to write something that I think is clear and understandable.
This isn’t a problem that will go away. Getting a degree in political science won’t always be reflective of my interests, even though I think that it is a good degree for me. If I do wind up graduating with that degree, it will only mean that at the time, political science was my interest. I think it all comes down to the fact that I am constantly afraid of missing the “what ifs”. A degree in something is important today, but it feels limiting. It feels almost as if I’m throwing away what could have been. I limitation is a part of growing up, but it sucks. I want to write about Shakespeare, or about the election, or about my experiences as a mixed man in America. Not only that, but I want to write about these things well. I want to get published. I want to make a career out writing if I can. But I know that whatever I am writing is just another fixation that is bound to go away. That truth hurts. I don’t know what I want to be what I want to be when I grow up, but I also know that I don’t want the breadth of my pursuits to be limited.