Before college, I knew that I wanted to be a therapist. From middle school until junior year of high school this was my dream profession until I began to worry I wouldn’t make enough money. At that time, 16-year-old Eva didn’t understand that success is measured in thousands of ways and depends on who is holding up the ruler. When I started college through PSEO (Postsecondary Enrollment Options) a couple months later, I enrolled in pre-business classes, but one economics course steered the fate of that short-lived decision. In the following years, I would scramble to find the perfect career that would make me rich, successful, and better than “normal.” I felt a lot of pressure to perform and compete against other students for scholarships, grades, and recognition. This mindset might have been the perfect environment for some people to thrive, but for me, it meant that my goals were made with skewed parameters that required unsustainable levels of energy. I think a lot of people have felt the way I did my first few semesters of college.
Before I go on, I have to acknowledge something super relevant to my experience. I am a young white woman from a middle-class family. I think many people in college, whether first-generation or legacy, white or POC, able-bodied or disabled, can feel pressure from their families and communities. My particular brand of pressure is inseparable from ableism and white privilege.
After my brief stint as a business major during PSEO I switched to nursing. I got my CNA license, enrolled in pre-nursing classes at LSC (Lake Superior College), and was given my first pair of super-cute teal scrubs as a high school graduation present. I loved that as a nurse I could help people in such a direct way. However, after three years of caring for elderly people as an aide, caregiver trauma started to seriously impact my mental health. That realization was incredibly difficult but necessary because it helped me understand my limits.
I explored my options: I was always told that I wrote well, but I was repelled from an English or Writing degree because of the (untrue) stereotype that graduates with liberal arts degrees are unsuccessful. I tried for several months to transfer to UMD for a biology degree but the core science classes at LSC only counted as electives at UMD. I couldn’t afford another five semesters of college and that fact allowed me to ignore that I was still headed in the wrong career direction. Another area I had done well in was laboratory procedures, which sounded like an acceptable route. I signed up for Medical Lab Technician classes at LSC. There were parts of the classes I really liked, such as drawing blood, looking through microscopes, and learning about pathology. Overall, I felt overwhelmed and disappointed with my choice.
By this point I started to realize that I had been shoving myself into a box I didn’t fit in. I had been trying to make my idea-centered brain work with numbers and logic. Not only was this wasting my strengths, but because of the low enrollment cap on the program I might have prevented someone else from succeeding.
When I looked back I realized that whenever I’d talk about being a nurse or lab tech I felt like I was talking about someone else. All of the prerequisites and checklists felt like I was a hamster in a wheel and not someone about to begin the rest of their adult life. Back to the drawing board. My favorite classes had been sociology and anthropology and many of my role models had similar degrees. After a lot of Google research, I decided that anthropology would be a great place to start. After three and a half years of college, I finally figured out my priorities – and was proud of them.
But wait! There’s one more twist to this story. My first full-time semester at UMD I began working as a Peer Educator at Career and Internship Services. I remember talking with the counselors about all the careers I thought I might like, but after years of chasing the wrong degree I knew I still did not feel right. Part of the student employee training involved personality and strengths assessments, all of which hinted (shouted) that I should consider counseling. I liked the sound of it, especially because it allowed me to help people hands-on, but caregiver trauma is a relevant issue for counselors I couldn’t ignore. Then I had a “could have had a V8” moment when the thought occurred to me that I should look into career counseling.
I could help people, have a useful career that took advantage of my strengths, work in a position that aligns with my values, and have a reliable income. I felt like a massive weight was lifted off my shoulders, almost literally. The pieces clicked together with an ease I had never experienced before. I know that I might change my mind in the future. At least for now I have a plan, which is more important than the plan actually happening.
Photo Source: Unsplash | Scott Webb