“You’re going to be the smartest one in your family,” my teachers said, and my mother repeated.
Wow, was that a lot to live up to.
My oldest sibling is currently studying neurology and biology as a grad student at Cornell University, and my second older sibling is at art school with a huge art scholarship for their talent.
I love my siblings, and I hold no jealousy or ill-will towards them for being intelligent and creative, but my siblings have both known what they wanted to do for basically forever, so when I had to start thinking about what would happen after high school, I felt like the odd one out — like the family dud.
So, I worked. I did my absolute best to pay attention in class and get good grades, and that went mostly pretty well. No one said I had to do anything, but I just wanted to live up to my siblings — to live up to the person people told me I was. The real issue came when I got to high school.
High school diminished my motivation and any possible passion I could have had. With so many classes I had no interest in constantly taking up all my time, I stopped being able to think about what I was interested in and focused on subjects that bored me.
“Smart people do STEM,” I thought. “I will do STEM. Then I will be someone.”
So forever, I just picked biology because I felt like I had to pick something. I liked music, I liked science and I liked writing, but was I passionate about any of those? What does being passionate mean? I started to question myself even more.
Is there anything I’m even good at?
Those questions were a little too big, so I decided to ignore them and continue to go through the motions for the rest of high school.
During the college application process, I would always put down “BioScience” as my major because that felt like the safe option. One of these colleges was DePaul University.
I narrowed my options down based on price and how much I thought the place might be cool, and it came down pretty much to DePaul. I guess I sorta felt safe picking it because it has a lot of great programs, and I needed that security in case the illusion broke, and I realize that I have no idea what I’m passionate about.
Back in April, my parents, my friend and I went to visit DePaul.
I stepped out of the car and walked 20 feet onto campus. Unlike what movies and books have told me when I stepped onto campus, there were no kids riding skateboards, playing frisbee, reading on benches or singing in harmony — nor was there an instant sense of belonging.
I stepped onto campus and felt nothing. I selected BioScience for my major and felt nothing.
“Aren’t you excited?” my parents asked.
I was not.
“Isn’t this cool?” my friend said.
I wasn’t sure.
I felt like there was something deeply wrong with me that I wasn’t immediately excited to be there.
After I got home, I finally had the panic attack I knew was coming for a long time. I expressed to my parents that I felt like a failure because I didn’t know what I wanted to do like my peers did. That was fun.
After a big discussion, I ended up deciding to truly take the time to figure out what I wanted to do.
I remembered the times when I was young, and my sister and I would sit on the porch swing after school and read an animal encyclopedia together — one of the things I consider to be my first inspiration to love animals.
So, I started reading research papers again, fossil collecting and going into my local forests to look at animals. High school diminished my motivation to explore any of these things, so I forgot my passion and made myself think that I was still just a dud. But, when I actually took time to explore these different things, I realized that I really do love biology so much.
So, this is the part where you’d expect me to say I am going to become an evolutionary biologist and study some random, obscure animal for the rest of my life. But, I don’t actually know.
I have no idea if I will like working in a biological field. However, I do know that I love animals, so I’m going to try it. And hey, if I dislike being in biology, I will just switch my major.
For years I just felt like I had to be at the top of my classes and know exactly where my future would take me, so I could be as cool and accomplished as my siblings. But, the truth is, my siblings didn’t even know what they wanted to do. They just really liked a hobby and stuck with it because they loved it — not because they had to.
If you know what you want to do, then cool. If you don’t, that’s also cool. If you have some idea or no idea, then that is also cool. The important part isn’t knowing what you’re passionate about in high school; it’s being open to finding out what that passion could possibly be.