I just got back from a whirlwind tour of colleges in the Boston area with my rising-senior daughter. As I strolled through the beautiful campuses, I couldn’t help but remember of my own time at Cornell many years ago.
I started as a Human Ecology major, hoping to save the world as a social worker. Though my intentions were honorable, my heart wasn’t in it, so I transferred to the School of Hotel Administration. Honestly, my heart wasn’t in that either, but I was clueless as to what my true passion was.
While I trudged through my cooking, accounting, and management classes, I took two required writing courses and fell in love.
You would expect the next step on my roadmap to read, “I transferred to Arts and Sciences and majored in Creative Writing.”
Um, no. I was terrifyingly insecure. I remember saying to my writing professor, as he begged me to change majors, “Who would want to read anything I have to write?”
So, I surrendered to the mediocrity of an unhappy career.
I stayed in the Hotel School, graduated, and ran a motel and restaurant for 15 long, miserable years. I hated every minute of it. But I’d be damned if I was going to admit I made a mistake.
During the course of those years, I had yearnings to write, but never the courage to declare myself a writer. Insecurity is a tough thing to shake.
Until at 41, having tried medical transcriptioning for a year, a doctor fired me because he felt I was nothing more than a “glorified secretary.” How dare I question his use of words that didn’t actually exist. See, he was a pompous doc who made up words constantly, and I tired of pretending he was smart… because he wasn’t.
I flagged every one of his reports with notes saying he needed a better command of the English language.
Yeah, that’ll get you fired.
With no job and too much time on my hands, I decided to take a stab at a novel, accidentally stumbled into screenwriting, and the rest is history.
My point is, it is never too late to change your major. I don’t just mean while you’re at school, I mean long after you’ve left.
Don’t let life box you in. Color outside of the lines. Step outside of your comfort zone. Push yourself to go after a dream, even if someone else is telling you you’re crazy.
When I spoke with a friend about the college search, he shared his son wants to go to film school. Being a screenwriter himself, he knows how hard it is to make a living in this industry and wondered if he should steer his son towards a backup plan.
My advice: “Let him pursue his dream. He has time to do something else later if it doesn’t work out. You’ll sleep better at night knowing you supported his passion.”
I know we need to make money to survive, and being an artist is the hardest way to do that. But I ask, what good is a pile of money if you are miserable in what you do?
Every day. Every single day. Miserable.
I did that for 15 years. I had a steady income, health benefits, free food, lodging and even free tequila. Did it make me happy? Hell, no.
If you’re in college and reading this, let me give you some words of advice from someone who studied the wrong major:
- Take courses that stretch your vision of the world as you know it.
- Don’t be afraid of falling on your face.
- Be honest with your advisor about what sparks you.
- The only way to truly find your passion is to take chances and dare to step outside of your comfort zone.
- Every school offers far more than your major. Explore. It’s the one time in your life you have easy access to so many opportunities.
- Don’t go to bars and frat parties every night. Yeah, I had to throw a parent-ism in there.
Much of that advice holds true for you grownups too.
Life is short, but your options don’t have to be.
I was struck by a tweet I saw yesterday enough to re-tweet it:
Career and life philosophy changes are overwhelming, but all it takes is one little step at a time, and you’ll reach your goal. But sitting in the same situation that doesn’t work week after week will lead you nowhere and only waste precious time.
Pretend your 18 again, looking at colleges, deciding on a major, and deciding what part of the world you want to live. The possibilities are endless. They still can be.
As you breathe your last breath, which by the way, could be today… there are no guarantees on how long anyone lives… what do you want to be feeling in your heart? I bet that last breath would go down easier if you felt you did everything you could to achieve your dreams of work, life and love.
It is never too late. Never.
Now if I can only convince my daughter to let me go back to college with her. What a do-over that would be!
- Balls of Steel: How to Grow a Set
- Balls of Steel: Dear New Screenwriter
- Balls of Steel: Hope vs. Faith
Tools to Succeed: