Mian: It’s okay to break up with your major

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Naib Mian, Columnist

I’ve always considered myself undecided in my interests and in my future course of study and career. My interest in journalism brought me to Medill, but I remain interested in everything else.

I recently discovered that if there was one thing I wouldn’t do, it would be engineering — but even my motivations for that decision were questionable. Did I really not enjoy engineering, or did I want to break away from the path set out by my brother and father before me?

Upon arriving at Northwestern, I was struck by an observation — I wasn’t alone. People all around me are undecided. There are economics majors still figuring it all out and journalism majors who are still unsure if journalism is what they wanted to study. There also those who don’t know how to balance their love for journalism with their love for math or science.

In no way am I saying that some people aren’t already set. If you are, then more power to you. But what I am saying is that a lot of people entering college decide what to pursue based on a very limited course of study over the past 18 years.

It’s fascinating how much we tell ourselves what we want, rather than allow ourselves to figure it out. How can we be so sure of being journalism, engineering, biology, history or anthropology majors coming into college when we’ve often had minimal exposure to those fields and even less exposure to everything else in the world?

It’s impossible to know we want one thing more than anything else when we haven’t actually experienced that wide array of “anything else.”

We’ve all heard it before: College is your place to explore and discover what you love. It’s so true. Yet, it amazes me how much I, and others around me, have yearned to be like that one kid who loves biology so much she’s already being published in professional journals.

Although everyone may seem like they already know exactly what they’re here to do, most are probably just telling themselves what they want rather than allowing themselves to explore their interests. In every person, seeds of doubt will grow with regard to something they get involved in, whether that’s a certain class, organization or activity.

We hear the idea of being open to every opportunity and possible interest, but although that plays into what I’m saying, it’s not exactly for the same reason. Yes, grasp every opportunity to take different classes and engage with different subject matter, not just so you’ll learn to love them though, but also to realize you might hate them.

Don’t decide not to do something because you’re afraid that you may not like it or even because you’re afraid you may actually love it — that fear only exists because of how much we try to tell ourselves what we’re interested in. Expand what you do so that you can more knowledgeably discover what you love most.

It’s easy to tell ourselves what we like and don’t like without a lot of experience, like I did with engineering. Taking advantage of distribution requirements has already allowed me to realize I will never be an art historian. In the next couple of years, hopefully I’ll be able to make similarly educated decisions about whether or not I’m interested in journalism, engineering, political science and the host of other fields we’re exposed to in this academic environment.

Question your interests. Better to do it now, when you can take another class next quarter, than after working 10 years and realizing your life isn’t where you wanted it to be.

Foster those seeds of doubt instead of squashing them because it’s not all about saying yes. It’s about every part of you confidently being able to say yes or no.

Naib Mian is a Medill freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].