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High anxiety and fear of the unknown run rampant in our society, but 2020 has emphasized the issue now more than ever before. Given the nearly year-long quarantine due to COVID-19, many are left feeling the least bit on solid ground.

For college students, specifically, online learning may have put a dent in their plans of graduating within four years. Some may be considering dropping courses, taking a gap semester for the sake of their mental health, or deciding that in the midst of the chaos they really don’t like their major. Well, I’m here to tell you that, as a senior who has changed their career path more than twice due to unforeseen circumstances and planning to graduate a semester late, changing direction from where you thought you were supposed to be going is okay.

Didn’t hear me? I’ll say it again:

Changing the direction from where you thought you were supposed to be going is okay.

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When I first came to West Chester University as a first-generation student in the Exploratory Program–a.k.a. “undeclared”–I felt out of the loop from my friends and peers that were excited to find themselves immersed in courses specially designed for their degrees in psychology, marketing, education, etc. With only vaguely-named gen-eds to guide me, like Creating Meaning and Applied Mathematics, the pressure of finding a major I could see myself in was building up.

As my parents went straight into securing jobs after high school, their concerns for my future were focused around finding a career path that would be a “safety-net” for guaranteed pension, benefits, etc. I knew my main passion was storytelling, but I couldn’t convince myself that a general English degree was a solid enough career path. I wanted a bullet-proof, crystal-clear plan in order to feel secure in my choices and not become the “starving artist” trope. Looking back, it was ignorant of me to believe that English degrees weren’t valuable assets in today’s job market.

My mom implied that a teaching career would be the best path for me, especially as her boss’s sister was a retired teacher who enjoyed her job for over 20 years. My roommate also ended up switching from psychology to become an early-grades educator, so I assumed that this was the right choice for me. I loved almost all of my high school teachers, I enjoyed literature and writing, and teaching seemed to be a good, safe career.

Safe.

A keyword that seemed to cling to the back of my mind as I was approaching the spring semester when I knew I needed to decide on something to study for my sophomore year. I didn’t want to continue wasting any more time and money on credits I wouldn’t need, so I went along with my mom’s recommendation. I ended my 8 a.m. advisor meeting switching out of the Exploratory program and handed with a folder of clearances to fill out for my new teaching degree. Walking out of the office onto the campus quad, there seemed to be a weight that lifted off of my shoulders. I’m going to be a teacher, I told myself. Of course, I was congratulated for declaring this new major, and it felt great, but I couldn’t ignore the slight twinge in the pit of my stomach that maybe there was something else catered toward what I really wanted to study.

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Well, after one of my very first observations at my old high school, my gut instinct was correct. I was scared to admit that teaching wasn’t for me at all! Sure, it was great to watch one of my favorite teachers engage with her students, but I truly didn’t see myself being a part of it. What I wanted was something that wasn’t leaving me stuck in one place, perhaps something to do with traveling for writing and publication. Sitting in the teacher’s desk, I began to drift away from the lecture and reflected on one of the very last lessons I received from my grandfather.

Although I have supportive people in my life, it was my grandfather that was truly a trusted mentor to me. Right before I was going into my first year of college, he sent me a video during one of my typical all-nighters with a message that rang in my ears like a church bell. The email read:

“It may be the most important message you’ll hear in your lifetime.

EVERYONE HAS A DIFFERENT TIMELINE.

Love Pop”

Those five words stuck with me for a long time. I let external factors affect my decisions because I learned to believe that they were always the right ones I needed to make by either listening to what my friends and family thought was a good fit for me or becoming heavily influenced by other people’s successes, even if their paths didn’t fit my interests. Although I believe that it’s important for us all to have trusted people who can guide us in the right direction, especially when it comes to career changes, it’s vital to check in with yourself first:

How do you feel about going in this direction? Why is it so important for you to have X accomplished by a certain amount of time? What do you believe is stopping you from what you really want?

So, in the summer before my junior year, I took the plunge and told my advisor that I was dropping the teaching program from my English Writings B.A. and declare a minor in journalism. Storytelling was always my number one passion, and journalism would continue expanding my horizons when I fell in love with West Chester’s journalism program. My professors in the program have encouraged me to try new things, from Podcasting to news writing to becoming a Copy Editor for the school’s newspaper! Now, having to take an extra semester longer has been positive because I know I can continue making more projects for my portfolio of work! It was amazing to just sit in class and realize that journalism was the key to unlock so many opportunities for myself and have the fog finally lift away.

Humans were not made to follow one steady path their entire life. Setbacks will happen, (and believe me, I’ve experienced many of them) but you learn and move forward from them. Perhaps, they take us on a journey we least expected, but ultimately, needed the most. It’s transformative.

I say all of this to let you, the reader, know that change is necessary for growth. Think about it: would you want to be the person you were in high school or even earlier? I don’t think so. For now, get used to the idea that because everyone’s timeline is different, you shouldn’t be afraid when your gut tells you that you’d be happier going in another direction.

Whether you’re changing schools, changing careers, or simply changing your hair color, do it because you know it’s what you need for yourself, not for anyone else’s approval. If there’s something calling out to you, run with it and see what happens. You may end up surprising yourself!

Nikki Haslett

West Chester '21

Nikki Haslett is a West Chester University of PA alum and former Vice President for Her Campus at West Chester. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in English writing and a minor in journalism, she is currently seeking out writing and editorial opportunities for digital/print news publications and magazines. Naturally, she's drawn towards creative outlets, whether it be beauty & fashion, writing, drawing, or working with multimedia tools for journalistic projects, such as podcasting and styling magazine layouts using Adobe InDesign and Photoshop. As an aspiring journalist and editor, she is determined to use her natural interpersonal skills to make meaningful connections with individuals and bring unique stories to the forefront. Fun Fact: One of my bucket list goals is to write a complete, feature-length movie script and attend a Hollywood awards show.
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