The college years mark one of the most important – if not the most important – points in our lives. The college experience provides, for many of us, a multitude of firsts; first time living away from home, first time being financially independent, first job, first time failing a class. With the overwhelming number of new experiences we must navigate and manage, the conviction that the decisions made in college determine the greater part of our lives can prove daunting.
Many of the students who come to Baylor change their major once or more than once. The fact that our college years go by fast does nothing to help calm unsettled nerves about choosing the best path. I came to Baylor having more confidence than self-reflection in my planned field of study. I knew that I wanted to choose a career that would contribute to my community and that when it ended would leave me with the conviction that I had made use of my life. That was about all I knew. With these two navigators to guide me, I chose a rigorous and time demanding path in environmental health.
My first semester, I dove head first into research by approaching a professor I didn’t even know. The work was enjoyable some days, but every day I worked I felt more insecure about my choice to study environmental health. Although it became clear to me that I was in the wrong major, I already felt the pressure of time. Recovering from a “wasted semester” seemed impossible. In fact, I almost considered staying in the major so as to not lose any time, even if it meant pursuing a degree in something I no longer felt passion for. I believed that if I left the security of a major with a very rigidly planned course load to explore other disciplines, I would never have the time to finish school on time or even graduate.
For me, there was no middle ground; either I would stay in my field or drop out of school. While I may sound like a drama queen, I can assure you that I am not. What I, and many others, are hindered by is called dichotomous thinking. A dichotomous thinker only looks at problems in black and white. Usually perfectionists, they see the choices they make leading to a pass or fail end. This kind of thinking paralyzed me to the point where I chose to stay in an unsatisfying major for an extra semester. Last summer, I took a risk by volunteering with an organization I knew little about to do work I was unfamiliar with. I loved the work and skills I developed at that internship. That path, though uncertain, led me to choose the major I now love, journalism.
The problem with dichotomous thinking is that the best way to correct it is to abandon it completely. For me, this meant taking a plunge into a major that was completely different from the one I had previously studied and to accept that while there might be consequences to doing so, those consequences could not be worse than my life as a hostage of self-prescribed fear.
Rachel Leland is a sophomore journalism major from Tulsa, Okla. She is a staff writer and regular columnist for the Lariat.