Alternately titled, A Letter to a Younger Me.
After reading my recent blog post on my evolving relationship with art and with myself as an artist, my friend, a junior in high school who’s beginning to sift through her options for the future, asked me if I had any advice about choosing a direction in life and finding one’s identity. She wondered if I could tell her anything about my process of self-discovery (i.e. how I got to the point of self-acceptance I’m at now). Here was my response:
“I think the best thing you can do for yourself right now (and by extension for your future self) is to (1) accept the inevitability of change and (2) allow yourself the freedom to realize what you really love.”
That was the short form. Here’s the bracketed text:
“I didn’t know it when it was happening, but that’s what I was struggling with my junior and senior years of high school when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and which college(s) were the best at teaching those things. I felt like I needed to know exactly what I wanted to do––if not as a career then at least as a college major––so that I could choose my college based on that. I think some core part of me knew that I belonged in a creative field, but I couldn’t accept that because I was still hung up on being [financially] stable/successful as an adult, and I didn’t believe that an artistic career could provide that stability. It stressed me out that I couldn’t decide between what I saw as the responsible, logical choice of majoring in psych and English or the scary––but potentially more fun and fulfilling––choice of pursuing art. I felt like no matter what decision I made, it was the wrong one for various reasons. I was also very irrationally afraid of making a decision and then changing my mind after I had been at college for a while. I thought if I changed my mind about my major I would automatically have to transfer schools, which would make me feel as if I had wasted all the money I had spent on tuition by that point in time.
“I deposited at St. Norbert very early (November of my senior year) because I wanted to have some kind of certainty about my future; I wanted to get the burden of my college decision off my shoulders. I had decided that I was going to major in psychology and either minor or second-major in English. It felt good to make that decision because then I could focus on my classes and on scholarship applications without worrying about where I was going to school. But what I started to realize as I got into the second semester of my senior year was this: I wasn’t passionate about the course of study I had planned. I wasn’t excited to tell people about it. I was writing scholarship essays about why I was going into the fields of psych and English and what I wanted to give back to the community with those majors, and I felt like I was fabricating my answers. I knew I was just trying to tell the scholarship review committees what they wanted to hear so they’d give me money. What I wanted to be able to do was be passionate enough about my intended field that I could write those essays with honesty and heart; I wanted to be able to believe what I was writing. And I couldn’t do that. I was writing about things I didn’t really feel.
“At the same time as I was realizing how dispassionate I felt about the majors I had “chosen” (I’m putting it in quotes now because there was nothing saying I had to stick with those majors except me and my inability to let go of what I had planned––I was my only limit), I was getting more involved in photography and design projects, and I was getting to know myself better. I paid attention to the things that intrigued me, the things that caught my eye in passing, and I also examined the types of people I like to hang out with. I started to realize that I got most excited about artistic
“So all this was happening during the winter and spring of my senior year, but I wasn’t really confronting it, partly because I didn’t want to deal with it and partly because I was really busy with life and preparing to graduate, etc, so I didn’t feel like I had the time to deal with it. Over the summer, I kind of went through this gradual acceptance/realization/mindset-shift where I almost knew in the back of my mind that I was going to end up doing something related to art once I got to college in the fall (that’s how I thought of it, too: like I was going to “end up” doing art as a result of some predetermined path and I was accepting that, not like it was an active decision on my part. Not that I wasn’t also happy with that path, but yeah). I also took an introductory design class last semester, and I think that’s what really solidified my transition to the mindset that I’m going to do some kind of art thing as a career, even if I’m still figuring out what it is.
“There’s still part of me that can’t go all-in and only be an art major; like I mentioned in my blog post, I am trying to get a minor or second-major in computer science because the incomes of artists can be really variable and unpredictable depending on the exact job they’re doing. I’m working on valuing happiness and fulfillment over material success, but I do still have to face reality and make sure that I can get a job and provide for myself. Computer science can both enhance and protect my art degree, I think (and validate it in society’s eyes, if I’m being honest). I can use it if I choose to do web design, or if something happens where the economy won’t support artists, I can always fall back on computer science to keep me afloat.
“This got a lot longer than I expected it to, but I think I have some idea of what you’re going through/are about to go through, and if I can help you avoid even some of the stress and confusion I felt when I was in your position, I’d really like to do that. I guess what I really want to emphasize is this: the very thing that I was afraid of happening actually did happen. I came to St. Norbert for psych and English, and now I’m shifting toward doing art as a career. I’m even considering transferring to MIAD because of it. But what I didn’t expect that’s turned out to be really true was that it’s okay. Things changed, and I’m okay. I’m better, even, because now I’m at least being honest with myself rather than trying to study things I don’t absolutely love. I don’t think I can be happy unless I really love my job, and the way for me to really love my job is for me to do art as a job. And that’s what I’d encourage you to think about as you’re choosing schools and majors: what can you not live without? What can’t you escape? Look back at your life––what’s the intrigue that keeps coming back to you over and over? That’s probably what you love, and I’d say that’s probably what’ll make you most happy.
“So yeah. Things have changed since junior and senior year, and I expect that they’ll continue to change. I don’t know what the next changes will be, but I feel better about them knowing that I’m not denying myself the things that make me most alive: art, writing, design, and photography. I’ve given myself the freedom to realize what I love and explore those fields, and that’s okay, and I’m okay. You’ll be okay, too.”
I’m sharing this in the hopes that maybe it will help someone else. Maybe it’ll make someone feel less alone in their uncertainty. I hope so.