I never anticipated that my happiness in college would be so directly correlated to my major. In hindsight, it seems obvious, but I never really believed the whole “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” mantra. I figured that I could get away with being mildly interested in my major and rest assured that I’d get a decent job that would make me enough money to fulfill me. But as anyone who has changed their major multiple times will tell you, that certainly isn’t the case.
No matter how much I tried to convince myself that studying biology for a measly four years of my life couldn’t be that bad, I was miserable in every class.
It’s exhausting enough to feign interest in a subject to your professor or parents or friends, but it’s even more exhausting to lie to yourself. I think that a lot of college students tell themselves that they just need to persevere through their undergrad studies and get a degree in something worthwhile, even if they hate every minute of it. Maybe it’s because we have been bombarded with the idea that we need to be deemed traditionally successful: who cares if you hate your job? At least you’ll be making a steady income and people will look up to you. Somewhere along the line, we allowed ourselves to believe that the void of personal fulfillment can be filled with money and status. Honestly, I don’t blame us…”loving” your job seems so trivial compared to the concrete value of being able to pay the bills and living in a nice house. Even now, I sometimes find myself doubting the idea that money doesn’t buy you happiness, because I really don’t see how it couldn’t.
Still, it wasn’t until I took the step to switch my major and started taking classes I was genuinely, wholly invested in that I realized that all those sappy Pinterest quotes have a point. Studying psychology made me happier than biology ever could. There was some kind of relief that came with not having to sell myself the idea that I was enjoying the reading assignments or being truly interested in the lectures. I looked forward to studying and for the first time, I wanted to ask questions. I went to office hours not because I felt a weird internal obligation to pretend like I wanted to “engage with material further,” but because I actually wanted to…engage with material further.
Not only did I stop dreading going to class, but I also starting doing a thing I had only heard in motivational videos or read in freshmen orientation pamphlets: taking initiative. I joined a research lab, applied to volunteer at a mental health facility and even took an optional online class over the summer out of my own free will. I felt like a nerd — but in a good way. I remember enrolling for classes in my junior year and being upset that I couldn’t fit all the courses I wanted to take into my schedule. Suddenly, my time at Cornell felt extremely limited; there was so much I wanted to do and so little time do it.
Now, I want to make clear that I still don’t believe if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies all the time; there will be instances where things get tedious and uninteresting and overall, you’ll have to work just as hard to be successful in a field that you like compared to one you don’t. I think the difference is that when you are sincerely interested in the work you have to do, it isn’t as much of a chore.
I’m in my senior year now, taking classes solely related to my major and I feel more academically fulfilled than ever before. Whenever underclassmen tell me about how they’re thinking about switching majors, I want to grab them by the shoulders and scream “DO IT!!!” Cornell is an incredible place with resources that most of us are probably not going to have access to again. If there’s some voice in the back of your mind urging you towards a different major, maybe give that voice a chance. It might just have a point.
Faiza Ahmad is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Fifth Column runs every other Wednesday this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.