September 27, 2021

MEIDENBAUER | Major Decisions

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Most of us aren’t required to choose a major until the end of sophomore year.  However, for some tracks, in order to meet requirements, you need to start working towards your major as soon as you get to campus.  

That’s how it was for me; I came to Cornell as an engineering major.  I was so excited to tackle the world’s problems and help initiate change for the better.  I still remember the welcome speech.  They announced that my class was the first to enter  the College of Engineering with more than 50% women. And I was so proud to be one of them.  Yet, every time I told someone I was an engineering student, the response for the most part was the same: “Good luck”.  Almost like it was foreshadowing my entire Cornell trajectory.

This scared me more than I was willing to admit, at the time. I was smart, capable and responsible. I’d be fine, right? I’d never become one of those kids that had to transfer, right? 

After making it through pre-enroll, classes began without much fanfare.  Everything started off really fine.  Well, until the first prelims came around.  All of a sudden, I was working harder than ever before, determined to prove I was worthy of a Cornell Engineering degree.  I spent countless hours studying, talking with professors, agonizing over problem sets, all determined to reach the ultimate goal of what I thought was ‘success’.  But, I never took a second to question whether or not I was happy. 

It wasn’t until I failed.  Well, not exactly, but as Cornell students, we all have high standards for ourselves.  Eventually, the wall of hard work I’d built around myself cracked, letting the waves of imposter syndrome wash over me.  No matter what I did, I was still struggling.  

This led me to the inevitable question- is this worth it?  

Despite the promise of job security and a higher income, my answer was no.  At the end of the day, I did not, and still do not ever want to be an engineer.  Despite knowing this, it took me years to gain the courage to transfer out.  It felt like a failure. It felt like I was giving up on a part of me that was so desperate to prove that voice of doubt in my head wrong.  But by waiting, I was trapping myself into a career I no longer wanted.

Eventually, I realized I wasn’t one of those kids that had to transfer, but one of them that chose to change; a small difference but one that completely changed my mindset. 

Leaving a major you’re not happy in is  not a failure.  If anything- it’s a success; you’re allowing yourself to find new opportunities in ways you never could before.  Now, I’m happy to say I’m in a major that I absolutely love and achieving my career goals in more ways than I ever thought possible.  I’m excited to go to class every day, and feel like the work I’m doing is meaningful, purposeful and very much aligned with my future plans.  

This isn’t a dig on engineering; if that’s what you want to do, then please pursue it.  However, if you ever find yourself, like me, sticking with a situation solely because you’re afraid to leave for whatever reason, I’m here to tell you it’s not worth it.  Perhaps there are other factors keeping you there.  But, if possible, allow yourself the grace to pursue what makes you happy and keeps you fulfilled, rather than what is prestigious, or simply part of your original plan.  As one of my friends kept telling me:Be brave enough to stick up for yourself.  Be selfish, especially with decisions that could impact the rest of your life.

As humans, we don’t like change.  It’s scary, and there’s a reason behind the phrase “fear of the unknown”.  It’s a life lesson we all will inevitably have to learn; change is not only inevitable but at times necessary and good.  Cornell has the advantage of “any person, any study”; so, allow yourself to truly explore different paths, and make the most of your time here.  It made all the difference for me.

Lorelei Meidenbauer ’22 is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]Hot-takes and Handshakes runs every other Tuesday this semester.