Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Dear Megan: Should I Change My Major?

Image thanks to Jane Rahman

Dear Megan,

I have a small issue that I've been dealing with for about 6 months now, that has just been ruining my life. I recently discovered that I selected the wrong major, but I'm almost done only a year to go and my biggest fear in life is failure, it is the ultimate guidance to everything I do and don't do.

I want to switch majors but it would be to photography, I'm currently studying advertising. In many ways I chose that major because my parents thought it was the right one for me, they’re really big on academics and they’re paying for my school. The entire issue has even led me to be depressed. Sometimes I don't even want to get out of bed.

I could switch majors this late in the game but am scared that in the future I won’t be able to make enough money off of photography. Or I can stay in the major I am currently in until I finish. People who know me say that I'm just scared of failing at advertising and that I should be fine. But I'm so completely unhappy that it's affecting everything including my school work. Please help me.

Thank you. A devoted reader,


Firstly, Jacqueline, you can’t let this ruin your life; that’s exactly the kind of pressure that confuses and pushes us into making the wrong choices. Education, however expensive, however vital to our careers, is always only part of any life. If it isn’t, if everything rides on it, then even a small hiccup can throw you off course.

Think of your entire life as a wheel, with each element of it as one spoke; the longer the spoke, the more satisfied you are in that area, the less happy you are, the shorter the spoke. Now, if some of your spokes are really short and only some are long – well, your wheel just will not spin, and, if it does, it will be one heck of a bumpy ride. Complete happiness relies on balance, that’s why they say money won’t bring you happiness, because you can’t be happy based on just one fact of life alone.

For you, it seems like you’ve put so much effort into making your career spoke the longest, strongest spoke, you’ve sort of missed the point altogether. It’s unfortunate that you were pushed into a major that you don’t necessarily think is right for you, but with just a year to go, I wouldn’t make any rash decisions.

My guess is that, if you look at the bigger picture, there are other factors causing you to feel unhappy. Your friends might be right; could it be a question of not really believing in yourself? I’m worried about your ideas of failure and success and what that means to you. Could you have placed so much on career and academic success because, perhaps, you are emotionally unfulfilled? Why does academic success guide you so strongly? These are questions you need to answer.

If you’re feeling pressured by your parents, then you must tell them how this is negatively affecting you. I’m sure that, deep down, them pushing you academically is only because they want the best for you. Talk frankly with them as an adult, tell them you appreciate that they have paid for your studies but you are having doubts; they were young and undecided once, and I'm sure no parent would want to contribute to the kind of depression you're describing.

Photography is a fantastic choice of career, and you should look at the positives – it is not a career that requires a college degree, it simply requires raw talent. I think, though, that you might be seeing photography as somewhat of an escape – it’s a hobby you love and so you’re idealising it into a dream career and a dream ‘you’. It could be your dream career, but it might not be. What you might find is that you opt for the photography major and you’re just as unhappy.

You’re right that it will probably be far harder to make a lucrative career from photography than it will with advertising, but the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. What if you kept going with the advertising and started to build your photography skills alongside it? Advertising can then be your back-up whilst you put your heart into photography.

Equally, however, don’t be afraid to follow your heart; we need more heart-followers in the world. If you truly want to be a photographer above everything else, and you know you have a genuine talent for it, I’d say there’s more risk in ‘playing it safe’ with the advertising, because you simply will never be happy doing it.

I’ve tried to give you some questions to think about here rather than prescribe a solution, the ultimate decision is one that, unfortunately, you have to make, and it seems to be a classic head/heart divide. My parting advice is a classic: sit in a quiet, comfortable space alone with a pad and pen, and mark out the pros and cons of each choice. Think about life five years down the line; think about life thirty years down the line; think about if the decision wasn’t to affect your parents, or be judged by your friends; think if money weren’t an option. Redefine your idea of failure and success as genuine, complete happiness or unhappiness, and focus on how all areas of your life will be influenced by your choice, rather than just one.

Has anyone else suffered a similar issue? Does anyone have any advice to share?


Martin - TheUniversityBlog said...

Jaqueline, sorry to hear you're going through a tough time right now.

Good news is, your major doesn't dictate your future career. Continue with Advertising and it doesn't mean you should be in advertising the rest of your life. Switch to Photography and it doesn't mean you can only work in photography forever more.

The choice is a tough one, but it's not limited to 'failure' or 'success'. Either choice will bring positive and negative connotations and that's exactly why it's a tough choice.

If you're not even interested in studying advertising and you can feasibly move on to a different major, I don't see anything wrong with that.

But as Megan says, the decision is up to you. Your parents and other peers have essentially taken past decisions for you, which have made you unhappy. Now is the time to be confident in your own decisions, whatever they may be. Nothing you do will be 100% success or 100% failure. And you go through life learning from your mistakes.

Pressure and disappointment from other people can draw you into thinking you've failed. But it's not their life...it's yours. My best decisions have come when I have been confident in choosing my own path. It's never been perfect, but it's given me confidence to make new decisions that prove stronger each time.

Whatever you choose to do and whatever happens, I wish you all the best of luck, Jaqueline. Here's to finding your way!

Kayla said...

I just switched my major too. Funny thing, I was an advertising major too,and miserable. It was not what I wanted AT ALL and it took me fielding all those questions (maybe you don't know enough about it maybe you're just afraid of it) until I figured it out. I had to get out of there. Since I did, I am so much happier.

I switched to an English major. Of course the first question people ask when they hear that is "So what are you going to do with that degree?" I was disheartened at first because I realized I will probably not make buckets of cash with this major, and that advertising might give me more financial stability. However, do you really want to be rich and miserable?

I came to realize that If I can have a little house,some food on the table, my guitar and the boy i love I'll be fine. Sounds corny but its true. If photography is what you love, do it. You'll be far happier. I think the only reason anyone needs tons and tons of money anyway is because they think owning a lot of stuff is happiness. Happiness is what you do and who you are, not what you own. If you do what you love, then you have it right!

Eternal*Voyageur @ Venudian*Glow said...

If I were you, I´d stick with advertising and just get that degree, and all the time do photography on your own, and try to get a job n it after you´ve done with college. I think that you don´t need a photographer degree to works as one, but a degree in advertising might be a big plus to a photographer.
You might already start promoting yourself as a photographer, offering your services at events and putting your work up at Flickr ad a website of your own.

Danni and Maria said...

I think it is always difficult as there is so much pressure to succeed whether academically or in terms of earning money. I am currently in my second year studying Classics at university anjd I found my first year very very difficult. I was unprepared for the impact studying would have oin my health and I missed a lot due to illness. At times I just wanted to pack it all in and start over. However, this year I have found it MUCH more interesting and having a core group of friends from my course who I can talk things over with and revise with has made my whole subject more interesting. I look upon my degree as being both interesting and engaging but also as a stepping stone for the rest of my life. I find that having hobbies such as blogging that are separate from my course help me to remain balanced and also employable! At the end of the day, your degree should be an asset rather than a chore that you feel trapped by. Basically, try and persevere with it, build up your portfolio, find new people to work with and it may yet work out for you. Good luck!

Maria xxxxx

Harriet said...

I did face a similar issue - I got two and a half years in to my four year degree before deciding it wasn't for me. There were other factors involved (difficulties with friendships etc), but I was deeply unhappy studying my subject and knew it wasn't for me. However, I also knew that quitting that late in the game would be very tricky, and just having a degree, any degree, can open a lot of doors that aren't necessarily in your degree field.

What I ended up doing was getting work experience in another field over the summer holidays. This made me absolutely sure I wanted to do something different, but also more determined to finish my degree as I couldn't do the job I wanted without one, and as by then I was only a year away it made sense to me to keep going with it.

Having made the decision and getting a job offer from the place I did work experience completely changed my final year. Yes, it was tough studying something I no longer had an interest in, but I knew that ultimately it was going to get me where I wanted.

I now work for the company I first got work experience at two years ago and I couldn't be happier!

I really hope it works out for your reader whatever she decides to do - I have been there and it is tough, but you will get through it! xx

jaqueline said...

thank you Megan for the advice.

And thank you everyone for the further advice.
I did talk to my parents about how I was feeling I've been actually trying to explain my feelings for the for a few weeks now, but as always the conversation did not go so well. And though I know they want the best for me they have this narrow minded view, that the money from advertising will bring me happiness (both of them never went through college and work really hard for there money, and I am sure that contributes a lot to how they feel about the situation)

I am content on finishing my education in advertising... but from last night thats not all they want... they have hopes that I'll settle into a career with advertising which is just not what I want. I know the importance of having a degree in this day and age, and I know the potential it has to open doors.

I am studying photography and have been for over 4 years now, I've even had a few clients every so often (nothing major) People have told me I have talent and potential for it and it was something I had wanted to study in the beginning of college but just didn't have the strength to fight my parents on, I also never thought I would be so happy with my second choice.

When It comes to my decision of switching or not switching, or of making photography a career I AM truly alone within the family spectrum, my parents have expressed that quite clearly last night.

Luckly my fiancee is on my side in many ways. He thinks I should finish but has also agreed to support me for a year or so, after I graduate and after were married, for me to peruse photography if thats what I want.
He's also been helping me with what little he can. He tells me to not lose hope, says that I have potential if I seek out, and tell me he's willing to help me, and invest in me (in the sense that he'll support me for a while after college until I find my feet) because I would do the same to him. (which I would in heartbeat)

Your kind advice, has assured me finishing my degree is the right thing to do, and it's very true that I can peruse photography on the side, which I most definitely, whole heartedly will be doing.

Thank you so much Megan and everyone who commented.

Vanessa said...

I switched my major during my Freshman year from Biology,with the hopes of being a medical examiner, to English, with the hopes of becoming a journalist. My parents were worried about the money issue: while medical examiners often make 6 figures, it's unlikely I will ever make more than $50,000 a year at journalism, if that much (many journalists look at a starting salary of less than $20,000)-- not to mention it'll be that much harder to even find a job.

Personally, I wouldn't switch majors at this point. It's good to have a back-up and if it's only one more year, you'll be okay, I'm sure. Plus, I don't think for photography you NEED a formal education. A career in it will probably be based more in your natural talent. If you are truly talented at photography, give it a go and have advertising as a back-up or a job in the mean time.

I want to stress that if you're worried about money issues, photography is probably not the career for you. Yes, you could get famous and rich, but like any artistic career, those success stories are FAR outnumbered by the people who live paycheck-to-paycheck and never find financial security. I've put aside the financial issues knowing that I will have to live a VERY frugal life if I don't stay with my boyfriend, who plans to be a lawyer. I understand that, on my own, I probably won't be financially secure unless I land a good job with a good magazine. Writing for a living is worth it for me. Please think long and hard about this: if money is truly an issue for you, I don't think life as a full-time artist is going to be right for you.

I hope you figure it out!

mariaik said...

Something I discovered is that one's major need not define one's career. For example, I majored in Mechanical Engineering and minored in social psychology during my undergrad and then in statistics during my graduate program. I now work as a data analyst. Do I feel like I wasted my engineering major? Not at all. Ultimately, an engineer is a problem-solver, and there are problems to solve everywhere.

So, you can look at it this way - regardless of which major you choose, you can always branch out into other areas. There is no law saying that a great advertiser can't also be a photographer or vise versa.

Jodi said...

wonderful advice :) i hope you follow your heart but i agree that there is no need to only choose one over the other.

Molly said...

I was majoring in English Lit with a minor in Creative Writing, but at the end of my first year I decided to drop English Lit and just do Creative Writing. The Department head and my Dad weren't very happy about this, but I knew it was the right decision for me. It was, I'm glad I changed. Best decision I ever made. It's important that you are happy, don't worry about other people. You're the one who will have to live with this decision.

Destiny said...

All the advice posted here is dead on.

I had an eerily similar situation (more than once) in college. My parents were sure I would be a broadway success, so a Vocal degree was in order. I hated it and switched to piano a year later (which they could deal with since it was something they had already supported for 20 years). Then I met boy, fell in love, and started HATING piano...I had already been in the percussion ensemble for years at the university and felt that percussion was really what I should have done when I enrolled. So I made a list of pros and cons, talked to my boyfriend, talked to my professors, talked to EVERYONE and then finally sat down with my parents at a public restaurant where I felt they couldn't completely freak out.

Long story short, they were really peeved about the whole thing, very skeptical, and also blind-sided by the fact that I was also informing them that I wanted to move in with my boyfriend ( I was young and thought killing two huge birds with one small stone was a REALLY great idea). Well, they consented to the major change, not that they had a say really, I supported my own education, but initially rejected the love-in.

So how does this relate at all? Two years later I was finishing up my music degree (in percussion) and had a few semesters of photography classes under my belt for a minor. WHOOPS. Looks like I want to change AGAIN. I made my list, talked and talk and talked about it, and decided it really wasn't necessary at this point to start over again, just for the sake of having a degree in photography.

How did things turn out for me? I currently I have a degree in percussion, teach piano and voice, and own a photo business! (and I am still very much in love with the beau I moved in with)

I have no regrets, because if I had changed my major to photography the only thing I would have gained (at least at my university) is a lot of historical photography knowledge and some hands on studio time.

I hope your decision went well and you are happier than you were when you wrote it. Good luck in whatever you do!

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