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Choosing Your Major is About Passion

High school graduation brought on the obvious, ominous question – What do I do with the rest of my life? I knew I was headed to college, but what lay ahead for me was still a mystery. Still, I stepped forward in time to earn the most expensive piece of paper I ever paid for – rather, that my parents ever paid for- my college degree. For that reason, I wanted to take college seriously.

I had already decided on the school – the beautiful University of Maryland College Park. It was a drastic change from the small town in New Jersey where I had lived my whole life. Now, I would be one of over 20,000 on a campus with broad courses of study such as animal science, engineering and astronomy.

During the eight-hour round-trip drive to freshman orientation, my father did what he does best – impart advice, covering many topics about college and being away from home for the very first time. And because I was a prisoner in that four-door cell, there was no choice but to listen to “The Importance of Social Activities,” “Intro to Balancing a Checkbook,” and “Calls to Your Mother and How Not to Worry Her.” But the most important lesson taught during that drive would provide me with the direction I needed to choose my major.

Discovering your passion

I had taken an economics class in my senior year of high school and fell in love with it. My teacher made watching the Dow Jones Industrial Average an exciting part of the day (a far cry from the depression I feel now as an adult with a 401K at stake). I found the study of supply and demand fascinating, focusing on how human behavior can drive the financial stability of the market. It was a combination of analytical skills and hard facts and this, I thought, was what I wanted to do.

My father told me that I should utilize my freshman year as a time to explore, to get my footing in school and discover where my passion was. Take the core classes, he said, and see if anything else sparks an interest. Don’t corner yourself into something you may not like two years in, he said. Rather, treat it like a buffet – have a little taste of everything and go back for seconds of the dishes most enjoyed. So, instead of declaring a major in Economics right away, I decided to go in as undeclared.

Finding what you do like by finding what you don’t like

I found myself sitting in an Economics 101 lecture hall on my second day of school. I was one of 300 students about to embark upon the lessons of micro versus macro. The professor walked in, flipped on the overhead projector and began immediately. Within 20 minutes, I looked down at my textbook with bleary eyes and realized that my father was the most brilliant man I had ever known – I HATED economics. Was it that I changed since high school or was it that I truly didn’t realize what the field was about and only got a small taste of it back in New Jersey? Either way, I couldn’t wait for that semester to be over and done with.

But out of the discovery of what I didn’t like came the realization of what I do like – writing. That spark first came in my freshman writing class and followed in a creative writing class which focused on creating short stories. I further discovered this passion in classes outside of the English department – in an intro to journalism and a history class focusing on the Vietnam War and the literature that was born out of it. No longer did I see a future for myself in a strictly analytical profession, but rather, a more creative profession. And after two years of school, I finally declared my major and concentration – English Creative Writing.

I was one of the lucky ones who graduated in four years, never having to attend summer school or make up credit because I changed my major. I had a clearly defined path towards that degree. And sure, some of the classes were snoozers- like my Medieval Lit class- but they challenged me to think, to debate with classmates, and yes, there were times when I still had to analyze.

You can do a lot more with your major than you think

So, you’re probably thinking, and I’m sure my parents did too, what do you do with an English major? I know it’s not as clearly defined as being an architect or a zoologist, but that’s what I love about it. All that writing, all that reading, forced me to learn how to organize thoughts both on paper and when I speak. Through words, I could convince people of an argument or create an image in their mind, talents that could be applicable to so many career paths.

I never went to school to be a recruiter. I don’t think I know anyone who did. And while your first thought may be, “How much writing could a recruiter do?” Well, you are reading my blog, aren’t you?  If you had an opportunity to meet my co-workers, you would learn we come from all different backgrounds that lend themselves to what we do for Sodexo. It could be that college, for you, may be about discovering not what course of study you have a passion for, but rather what intangible interests you have a passion for – serving others or making an impact on the environment. Just ask our employees and listen to what they say about turning their passion into a Sodexo career.

So to you freshmen out there, and even to those of you well into your college career, my advice to you is this:  find your passion. Don’t be afraid to take a class and fail (Physics of Sound was my fiasco). Don’t hesitate to take a class about a topic you don’t know a lot about (like, astronomy).  Don’t miss out on a class that makes you wonder, “How could I ever use that?” (like, entomology – but to this day, I can still explain to my daughter how a lightning bug lights up). It could be that the class you don’t take is the most important class you should have taken.

And while I didn’t choose Economics as my course of study, it still follows me to this day – I married an Econ major.

Author

Michele is a Senior Recruiter for Sodexo, a world leader in quality of daily life solutions that contribute to the progress of individuals and the performance of organizations. Michele began her recruitment career in 1999, joining Sodexo in 2008 where she recruits for a range of food, facilities and environmental services positions. Michele holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland College Park (go Terps), is a charter member of a Baltimore area Toastmasters chapter, and a Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR) and Certified Diversity Recruiter (CDR). Join her on LinkedIn or just Network with Us at Sodexo.

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6 Responses to “Choosing Your Major is About Passion”

  1. You make a great point! Having an open mind when entering college and deciding on a major is extremely important. In my experience, however, it was fear of failure that stopped people from trying new and interesting courses. I think this is a problem in any grade-conscious school environment where people are so focused on GPA; students see more value in protecting/boosting GPA than in exploring what could be a newly discovered passion. What advice can you give to students who are scared of taking a hit to their GPA by taking unfamiliar classes?

  2. avatar Crister says:

    Great post, Michele. While I’m years (um… decades) beyond my college years, the advice and insight you shared here are so true and valuable – I will be sharing it with all the college students I know. I too, changed majors (several times, actually) and ended up with two degrees… one of which just “sits” on my resume looking pretty, but I have no regret earning it.

  3. avatar Eric Woodard says:

    Thanks Michelle!

    …but let me offer a different take. Instead of finding passion and/or discovering who you are…I think better advice is: DECIDE who you are.

    It’s more empowering and its quicker. I know it’s not a popular belief, but I believe students are often encouraged to discover themselves when they could just as easily decide who they want to be. In the end, identity is truly a decision we base on the assumptions we make about ourselves. Why not guide our beliefs in a way that we can decide to be, and do, whatever we want?

    Self discovery and finding passion is over rated.

  4. Eric- I tend to believe that passion goes hand in hand with who you are and what you want to be. How do you know who you are without the self discovery you referred to?

  5. Chris – what I would say to a student is this: some of the greatest things in life can only happen when we choose to face the fear of failure. Failure doesn’t exist only in college, it can happen in careers, in personal lives, etc. and while it may be quite bit more expensive :) to fail in college, it is an unavoidable part of life. Continual self reevaluation may be needed. Maybe even a discussion with a professor or guidance counselor prior to enrolling would calm the fear. If I didn’t face my fear or anxiety in my career, I would have missed out on a lot of great opportunities and projects which ultimately propelled me ahead.

  6. Great insight, Michele. Thank you! I commend you for your ability to take on new challenges with obvious poise. That’s a great lesson to learn :)

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