Following Your Dreams Is Hard: Changing Your Major Edition

Imagine you’re in a physical audience rather than a virtual one, in a blissful world without COVID-19. If I asked you to raise your hand for experiencing any of the following, I imagine I’d see a sea of them, like baseball fans doing the wave in the stands: Have you ever felt like you had to have your entire life figured out right now? Are you worried about picking a career that won’t pay the bills? Do you feel like you have to prioritize salary over passion?

Once you leave elementary school, the pressure to make life-altering decisions is pretty much chronic. Middle school teachers insist that university admissions boards will look back at your 7th-grade transcript; high school teachers emphasize that college professors are snarling critics, chomping at the bit to fail you. Before most kids even hit puberty, our heads are ringing with an endless loop of questions: Where should we apply to college? What are we going to major in? How are we going to pay for rent and credit card bills and cell phone plans? Growing up is molded into a nightmare, something to dread. We’re told that we have to be practically perfect in every way.

My survival tactic was simple: I answered these questions how I thought I was supposed to. I was going to get a generic bachelor’s degree and work in a sea of cubicles, where I would input numbers into a computer for eight hours and be bored out of my mind. Have you seen Office Space? But hey, I would be bored with dental insurance and a 401(k)!  Work and college were just necessary evils to reach an inevitably average life.

a calculator covers a spreadsheet of expenses 777546 | Pixabay

Upon criticism from family members and friends, that vision took shapes that were a bit less drab, like a future sex educator, teacher, or mental health advocate. I care a LOT about all of those fields and would be honored to work in any one of them, but there’s always been this thing, something gnawing in my gut. I felt uncomfortable as a human communications major, but psychology didn’t feel quite right, either – I felt like I was shrugging on a sweater that I hadn’t worn since I was 13. There’s always been this voice in the back of my head telling me not to settle, echoing the mantra I’ve heard from countless loved ones, therapists, and distant acquaintances: Why wasn’t I majoring in film?

To make a long story short, I wasn’t in film because it terrified me. I have absolutely no experience in the field, unless you count the scary movies I filmed on my iPod Touch in 6th grade – how could I stake my entire life on it? There’s little else that I love more in the world than film – consuming it, dissecting it, talking or writing or screaming about it – but a life in which I pursued it has always been a fantasy. Chasing your dreams is a romantic concept, sure, but dreams don’t pay the bills. Dreams don’t build the life that guidance counselors have prescribed to us. Psychology didn’t feel right, but it felt like the right decision to make for my future, so I went with it, tacking on a Film minor to ease the ache. I changed my major on myUCF and signed up for a fall semester with all but one of my classes dedicated to psychology; the only exception was Honors Cinema Survey.

Within seconds of my film professor opening his mouth, I was smashing my keyboard with the force of my note-taking while the other students texted under their desks. The voice in the back of my head rose from a whisper to a yell: This is what you need to be doing! Can’t you feel it? I was too stimulated not to ignore it – the lecture was feeding my passion and forcing me out of my practical mindset. The movie we watched only furthered my craze, to the point at which I called my parents immediately upon the class’s release and rambled to them about the themes and motifs and everything that made it special. Everyone in my life had to hear about A Place in the Sun: my roommate, my boyfriend, my sisters, and old friends from high school I hadn’t spoken to since graduation. Something had clicked in a way that it never had before.

camcorder on blue background Photo by Thomas William on Unsplash

Readers, you need to understand that I KNOW it sounds ridiculous. One class made me see the light, change my major, and completely alter the course of my life? It seems like an experience typical of someone weak-minded. But I need you to get that I didn’t have a solid plan for anything I was going to do after graduation, whether I was a human communications, psychology, or film major; a sense of aimlessness and a shabby apartment was always inevitable for me. I think they might be inevitable for everyone, because I don’t think anyone’s plans should be set in stone before their brains have even stopped developing. If I’m going to struggle regardless – because hey, that’s life – couldn’t I do it after spending four years thriving in a field that I loved, rather than just surviving a major that means nothing more to me than a paycheck?

No, I don’t have any technical skills yet – because I changed my major after drop/add, I’m still enrolled in psychology courses about which I couldn’t really care less. But now that I’ve committed to film, I’m genuinely excited to learn how to edit and write and capture the perfect camera angle. And I feel so much less like a fraud than I did when I was pretending to care about something that meant nothing to me.

My advice isn’t to throw caution to the wind and jump into something recklessly, because God knows that that is NOT what I do. I don’t even know if I’m capable of that! I would just say that if you really feel something when daydreaming about another subject, or if you resonated when I described that gnawing feeling, calling an advisor about a different major couldn’t hurt. Who knows? It could be the best decision you ever make. And if not, we’re still young – we’ll figure it out eventually. three girls during golden hour Photo by Simon Maage from Unsplash