Mom wanted me to be an astronaut, I wanted to be a diver.
September 29, 2012 7:17 AM   Subscribe

I didn't choose the degree I am doing right now. It was my mom's wish... but I didn't realize at the time! If this happened to you... how did you cope? How did you take the best out of it?

My grandfather is a word lover. It was obvious for him he would be a writer and a Latin and Greek teacher. But he was a Jew in Europe in the forties… So he chose to study something that would be useful anywhere in the world… He ended up by being a renowned doctor, spending his scarce free time reading verses.
On the opposite, his son, my father, knew at five years old he wanted to work for such company. At twenty-four, the day after his graduation he applied for said company. He now enjoys a very interesting position in said company and will happily retire in five years time.
As for me, I am one year from graduating. And I am slowly starting to realize I never chose to study what I am studying (I'm in a creative field). My mom has always been very talented at drawing, but her parents prevented her from transforming her hobby into a job. She pushed me hard into the school where I am right now because she, she couldn't enter it. Realizing this helps me understand a lot about my attitude towards my school. I've never felt at ease here, always feeling I wasn't totally allowed to be here, that it wasn't my place. It maybe also explains my having a hard time to knit meaningful relationships here.

Now what? I'm angry, I'm lost.

Even with the two very different examples I gave you above, I have a hard time drawing a conclusion about what I should do now.

I guess saying fuck and throwing everything away and start from scratch isn't the best idea (or is it? is it?)

Do I… transform what was my mom's fantasy into my own wish? How do I… appropriate the "choice" that wasn't mine first? How do I make it mine?

If this happened to you, could you please give me your input? (whether it was about your education or your job or your... whatever).

Thank you in advance!

On a side note : I am twenty five, the school where I am is pretty selective (but tuition free / in Europe), so it isn't only my mom's wish, I had to pass a written and oral test -without mom!
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Finish your degree. It's free!

Until you know what you want to do once you graduate, it's kind of pointless to stop everything and start over. Over at what?

Getting a Liberal Arts education is NEVER a waste of time. If you do it well, you learn critical thinking and you have a broad understanding of the world around you.

Get out into the world. Explore different jobs, see what appeals to you.

I majored in English with an eye to teaching. I dropped out, got a job and finished up my degree while working full time. It turns out I had an affinity for technology and became a real whiz in telecommunications networking/technology. I had a great 25 year career and didn't take ONE CLASS in college that would have prepared me for it.

I was approached by my job to get an MBA that they would pay for. I figured, why not? So I did.

I left the phone company 4 years ago and now I'm working with a really specific piece of software, and I love it!

Life long learning is your best investment. Being flexible and willing to try new things and to take life as it comes is the way that you are consistantly happy in your profession.

As you've discovered, what you think you want at 18 is very different than what you want as you graduate from university at 22.

Don't fret, this situation is as common as dirt.

If you do want to go to school to train for something else after a few years, go ahead, there's nothing stopping you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:25 AM on September 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

i would recommend slowly transitioning to something you've identified as being closer to what you want. say you like business. well it seems you've invested a lot into your artistic education so maybe you could start looking at transitioning to marketing.

ultimately, now is the time you need to listen to yourself, not to others, to not end up in the same situation. take others' advice here only if it sort of clicks with you. don't force yourself too much to see the validity of any particular opinion.
posted by saraindc at 7:26 AM on September 29, 2012

I don't have any specific advice -- you've got several reasonable options, as I read it -- but I would remind you that, everything else aside, you haven't balled up your life or anything. Studying something in college that you might leave behind isn't the best circumstance, but it certainly isn't the worst.

Good luck.
posted by mr. digits at 7:34 AM on September 29, 2012

I work at a university career center and we have this book in our library: Hand me down dreams: how families influence our career paths, and how we can reclaim them.

Several students said they found it helpful in putting their feelings into perspective and in thinking about tangle next steps to move forward. Maybe it will help you too.

......And it's less than $5 on kindle, I see.
posted by anitanita at 7:36 AM on September 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

You did choose your degree - you just weren't aware of what was influencing you to do so at the time. Whatever you do now will also be your own choice, but you have the option of going slowly and spending some time trying to understand your motivations, or making a hasty decision without really knowing what you hope to get out of it or why.

I don't know if there's a good reason for not finishing your degree: what options are closed to you if you wait a year and graduate?
posted by jacalata at 7:54 AM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you are close to graduating, you might want to just finish. Ultimately it's important that you do for your career something you enjoy and something for which you have passion, otherwise you might be miserable, but it's also important to be practical, to make sure you have skills, and then start getting experience, instead of finding yourself to be 30 or 35 years old with no expertise. Have you talked to your dad about this? Do you have grandparents you can talk to about it? Other older mentors and advisors who know you well? You can tell them what you where you want to go in life and they can give you advice on how to get there.

There was a recent question here about what people would do differently if they were 25 again (or something like that). I can't find it right now, but if you didn't see it, it might also be helpful for you.
posted by Dansaman at 8:01 AM on September 29, 2012

Sometimes our parents pick or encourage a field of study for us because they know us well. Sometimes if they didn't choose something for us we would flounder and fail to pick something. Sometimes we don't have a clear direction and parents encourage and guide. That's what responsible parents do.

Know that your mom wants the best for you. Sure, your mom may have encouraged, or "pushed you hard", to pursue this particular field of study but as you said, you are the one doing the work. You can continue to feel angry and powerless. Or, you can take responsibility and make it your own experience, because it is. Not feeling at ease is something you cannot blame on your mom. Forming "meaningful relationships" is not so easy all of the time. What is worse? Dropping out, failing and behaving as a victim? Using the excuse that you never chose it? Or, doing the responsible thing by: Learning new things, working hard, having gratitude, and realizing your good fortune of a free education. Others would kill to be in your spot. Don't squander it or act like a child at this time in your life. The time to blame your parents is over.
posted by Fairchild at 8:11 AM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just some things for you to consider, OP:

• There are/were numbers and statistics that show that most undergrads (and even grad students) in my specialized science field X do not actually get a career in field X in the end. I have no doubt that the numbers would show the same for your field, too. But in the end a degree from a college or university demonstrates that you did and will master basic courses from your field and that you will have skills appropriate for entry level jobs in many, many fields. So take pride that you have mastered something you just need to find out how to get to a place you want to be. But getting a degree in X and working in Y is very, very common.

• Try to explore and find other passions or how to apply your field to another of employment. When I read your post, OP, I don't see passion for another field (there is nothing wrong with this, you just haven't been exposed to it). If it is allowed in your school, take classes in other areas just to see if you have an interest in other areas. (You may find a new interest/passion). Alternatively, those other careers/jobs are not blocked off to you. Something that you may want to consider is that you will have a skill/talent in your field; Is there a way that you can apply it to another career area? As an example, for a couple years I worked in companies doing specialized niche writing...but I was surprised to find out that my industry sometimes hired students who had a BA in English and were interested or showed an aptitude for learning field X --so those former students found a way to apply their unrelated major to a completely different field. So be proud of your field and ask: How can you apply it to other areas of employment? You may want to talk to faculty and/or a career center at your university and see if they have recommendations for fields of employment for you ...starting with what you will finish as an undergrad.

• OP, you can change careers many, many times in your life; each time you will learn a new skill or something about field X or field Y. But there is nothing that states an undergrad degree in Q means that you will be destined to work in field Q for the next 40 years. To be honest, I think that if you can master the "learning how to get a job/change jobs and apply current skills/and go after what you want in a career" will not be confined to this. For whatever reason, you are perceiving the walls of a box right now. You are not in a box. In fact, if you have a free education and were awarded it, too, you have the freedom to go in many,many directions soon as you identify what that is.

• I don't know how to state this but if you can, try to let go of the anger. I've met many, many students in the past who ended up in a major and said "I hate this, how do I get out?" You will never know about your field until you study it for years ....but open up your eyes, I have no doubt that jobs that you want and/or even additional schooling for free will be available at some point if you want it and look for it.

• One more idea, although you may not be ready for it yet because I don't think that you have much job experience (I could be wrong, don't see it in the past). If you can truly identify a field that will build on your skill set or something that you are passionate about, then ...invest your remaining time in finding out how to get into that desired job.Maybe it is an internship;maybe it is a class or two. Find out what those people do and how they got there.

Good luck,OP
posted by Wolfster at 8:39 AM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm writing from a US perspective, so think carefully about whether my story is actually relevant to you.

Like you, I was primarily influenced by my family, who have survived two revolutions in the last two generations and thought about their jobs in a way that would have been familiar to your grandfather. Like you, I did well at first (got into a good program, collected a few minor awards and fellowships, etc.) but eventually figured out I didn't actually to be a pre-medical student.

So in my third year I started taking computer science classes and ended up graduating after five years with a computer science degree. Along the way, I worked for the CS department as a system administrator, co-chaired the campus ACM chapter, competed in two programming competition, and worked two summer internships as a programmer.

I'm now a programmer at the same place where I had my last internship. Most of my coworkers have no idea I wasn't originally a CS major (except for the two guys who also started out in biology!) I'm going to EMT school at night, but that's the only remaining trace of my original career aspirations.

But I got lucky in a few ways:

- I wasn't just leaving biochemistry and pre-medical studies, but rather transferring into another program (CS) where I knew I could do well. It doesn't sound like you know where you're going, so if you want to leave your art program, then a good first step would be figuring out where you want to go.

- I was able to do my CS degree in addition to, not in stead of, my original chemistry/biochemistry degrees. If CS hadn't worked out, I would still have had a B.S. in something, which in the U.S. is a prerequisite for most good entry-level jobs (and many bad entry-level jobs). I definitely don't think you should just drop out of your program without a next step in mind.

- I was able to find a circle of friends in CS (many of them younger than me) who welcomed me into the department and helped me catch up. You mentioned not feeling as though you belonged at your current program and that this was a problem for you. I would give some thought to whether it will continue to be a problem for you wherever you go next. I know some transfer students, and they do sometimes struggle with social isolation due to having missed the early bonding experiences (suffering through intro classes together, etc.). Even if you're not somebody who needs a lot of social interaction, there can be definite academic consequences to not knowing anyone in your department.

Sorry, this was longer than I expected, partially because I've been thinking recently about how I got here myself. Again, please think about whether my story is actually relevant to your situation. It might also be worth noting that I'm actually younger than you (are you in some sort of graduate program or are European schools just on that different a schedule?) so you actually have more life experience than I do at this point.
posted by d. z. wang at 12:28 PM on September 29, 2012

Do your degree in a way that prepares you for graduate school in the field you want to enter.
posted by slidell at 1:32 PM on September 29, 2012

We're now at a point in history when more than ever people will do a myriad of things in their lives, some related to each other, some completely different.

This degree you're doing now will be one piece of a much wider puzzle.

I could be wrong, but I don't think you mentioned what you actually want to do in your question. Do you know what you want to do?

If you don't have to pay for it and you don't feel a crushing sense of impending doom by doing the degree, I would keep going with it and then start to do what you want after that.

You will experience this many times in your life - wait, how'd I wind up here, I'm not sure I want to be here, maybe I should change that - and it just becomes another part in your story.
posted by heyjude at 1:42 PM on September 29, 2012

I can understand where you're coming from. I studied two degrees - one was more or less my choice, and the other (law) was essentially fulfilling my mother's wishes. I was halfway through my law degree when I realised I wasn't terribly interested, but I finished it because I realised the most interesting parts for me were the elective subjects, at the end of the degree. I'm glad I did those last subjects (about a year and a half of study) because it allowed me to pursue my interests and opened me to some new opportunities, one of which later became my first paid job. So continuing did work out well for me.

My advice would be to, as much as possible, ignore your parents wishes, and ask yourself:
1. Do I enjoy the study this my degree requires?
2. What am I getting out of completing this degree?

You might find it is worth completing the degree if it means you have a degree, rather than no degree at all. But I would say be wary of studying anything you don't enjoy. My law degree was supposed to be a path to a 'good' job. And now, nearly six years after university is finished, my mother still pressures me to find a job as a lawyer. Truth is, working in the law would not be a "good" job for me, becuase I am not interested in it! The "good" jobs relate to something you are interested in - make sure your studies equip you for that.
posted by EatMyHat at 2:18 PM on September 29, 2012

I'm 25, and all of my friends have pretty amazing jobs but very few have jobs in what they majored in.

I say finish your degree. Lots of jobs have overlap.

It sounds like you're majoring in something creative, but maybe aren't as interested in the creative world? That's great news for you! Because for every creative venture, there are 15+ people managing the day to day, coordinating, promoting, managing and producing.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 9:03 PM on September 29, 2012

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