One of the few downsides to having this blog is that sometimes as I’m writing a post giving advice on some topic, like the importance of daily quiet time habits, I feel a little guilty knowing that I don’t keep my own principles perfectly. But with this post, I feel pretty good, because I want to talk about boldly making changes today, and I’m totally chucking my pre-planned outline for today’s post to do it.
The reason I think it’s important to share this topic with you today is that our time of life, college, is by its very nature defined by change, and yet sometimes we’re terrified of that! I know so many college gals who have agonized over big decisions, like changing their major or transferring schools, and smaller ones, like dying their hair a crazy color. But if you’re one of the many people out there who is pondering a radical life change, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be afraid. Be smart, be circumspect, be thorough, but don’t be afraid!
I’m the first to admit that I’ve not always been a big fan of change. In fact, I haven’t really altered my hairstyle in the last decade (don’t worry, it’s pretty nondescript and timeless, at least I hope). I eat basically the same lunch every day. I LOVE routine and consistency.
But I’ve made radical life changes in the last couple of years, and ultimately I am so happy that I was willing to take a chance. As a junior in high school, I decided to study architecture. I ended up going to N.C. State’s College of Design as a freshman, and found out that not only did I not care for architecture, I loved writing for the campus newspaper. I was really distraught, having spent $25,000 and a year of 60-hour weeks on something only to find I wanted to completely change course. I considered continuing in architecture. But ultimately I figured that if I hadn’t been happy for one year, I’d better not follow up with four more years out of stubbornness! I requested a yearlong leave of absence from N.C. State, packed up my drafting board and modeling supplies, and headed home to regroup, replenish my savings account, and find a new course of study. I planned to get a temporary job and maybe do some job shadowing to find a new direction. I emailed a couple of local newspapers and magazines in search of an internship or shadowing opportunity, and lo and behold, I ended up with a full-time internship for a year at my hometown newspaper.
I took a chance and it paid off big time
My life this year couldn’t be more different from last year. I’m working at a job I love, where I learn something every day, my commute is 5 minutes (10 if I get stuck behind the school bus), the money I’m earning enabled me to buy a car and beef up my savings, which were wiped out by tuition and housing last year, I’ve been able to spend lots of time with my family and fiancé. I’m happy rather than exhausted and frustrated. But I took a risk to be that way. I left a program that it would be difficult to reenter a year later due to the unusual structure of the College of Design. I still don’t know if I could go back if I wanted to (not that I would in a million years)! And there are still some unknowns. I’m changing my major to communications, and I’m still zeroing in on the school that I’ll be transferring my credits to. There’s a bit of a question mark as to how much the differences between my original and current major will set me back on graduating.
But this I do know: If I’d been paralyzed by fear or doubt and remained where I was, things would be totally different right now. I wouldn’t be able to get married next month, that’s for sure. And as my fiancé is just beginning the lengthy training pipeline to get into Special Forces, spending time with him now and during training is incredibly important to me, something that’s next to impossible if you’re not married.
Long story short? If you’re facing a dilemma as a student, don’t freak out. Do you hate your major? So did I! Is it looking like the school you chose isn’t for you? That’s fine! I loved N.C. State as a university, but getting married to a soldier and living in Raleigh aren’t compatible, so I’m going to have to switch gears. No problem. Do you have mental, emotional, or health-related issues that are going to necessitate a nontraditional type of education or a change in your current method? That’s ok, too. “The college experience” that we keep hearing about is actually more like 500,000,000 different possible college experiences, and there’s no “correct” way to get your degree.
A year and a half ago, I was embarking on a 6-year educational path for a masters degree in architecture. Today, I’m a published, award-winning journalist at 20 years old, I’m getting married to my best friend next month, I’m prepping to study communications and finish my degree in about 2 years, when I would have graduated with my B.A. in architecture, even with a gap year. If you’re facing a big decision, I want you to know that you got this! You’re in good company with hundreds of thousands of others making huge decisions every day, and you can do it, with the right attitude and some hard thinking.
Here are the steps that I followed to successfully make a really tough decision:
- Pray. We know that we don’t have the answers all the time, but God does. He might not present you with a specific itinerary, but he will guide you if you ask him to.
- Make a pros and cons list. Don’t omit anything, even if it seems silly or minor, and ask others to help you after you make your initial draft.
- Think about it for a couple of weeks (if at all possible) before making a decision. If you’re dealing with a potentially dangerous roommate or some other immediate threat, you don’t have time for cool deliberation, but if you’re contemplating something like moving schools or changing majors, don’t make a rush decision. I took about 4 months to choose to leave architecture to pursue journalism, and several more months to decide not to return to N.C. State.
- Talk with relevant parties and impartial ones. Talk to your parents, friends, boyfriend, roommate, best friend, teammates, boss, academic advisor, counselor, whoever is involved in your decision. It’s important to get the input of people with more experience and different perspectives on the issue, as well as those who are directly affected. For instance, if you want to transfer to a new school that costs more, and your parents pay your tuition, that’s a conversation to be had. Or maybe you want to quit the volleyball team. Will your teammates be adversely impacted? Can that be fixed? But you can also benefit greatly from the advice of an impartial person, particularly if it’s an emotional or interpersonal question. When I switched majors, I talked to my parents and advisors and friends, but I also talked to TAs I knew from previous classes who weren’t personally involved but understood the subject matter. They offered me a key perspective, free of personal opinion.
- Do your research. Make sure your perception of the issue aligns with reality. Make sure your proposed solution is realistic and feasible.
- Pray some more. Need I say more?
- Don’t second guess yourself. Once you come to a decision that you’re satisfied with, don’t undercut yourself with doubt. If you have to change roommates for some reason, do it, and be confident! Once your decision is made, pursue it with confidence, and if you have to change your mind again, there’s no shame in that. If you are making rational, well-considered decisions, that’s the best you can do. Don’t stress over variables you can’t control; just do the best you can with the information and resources that you have available to you.
If you’re wrestling with a big decision, I hope this was encouraging to you, and if you’re not, pin it for later, because I guarantee that your college career will at some point throw you a curveball. Remember, you’re in a time of big changes and big decisions, and you will do just fine!