I am a Sagittarius, the astrological sign characterized by idealism, curiosity and impatience, traits quite descriptive of me. However, I’m also hardworking and anxious like a Virgo and energetic and passionate like an Aries. Uh oh. How can this be?
Last time I checked I didn’t have three birthdays, so does this make me some genetic anomaly? Did I have some mutation that melded the souls of three different humans into my single genome? This mid-tween crisis birthed the epiphany I live by today: Most labels are reductive and relatively arbitrary.
Few examples are more characteristic of this than the most prominent label one dons when first setting foot on university grounds – the college major. Applying for an internship? First question: What is your major?
You meet your fifth cousin, twice removed, at the family reunion and you’re asked, “College major?”
Standing in the Flipse elevator, praying it doesn’t break down, forcing small talk and you’re once again asked, “So … what’s your major?”
Of course, we are going to define ourselves by our major, stress over its exact verbiage and second guess if it’s the right choice with every passing day. But like most measures of self-identification, the college major is just another label. It only has the level of meaning with which we choose to endow it.
In fact, we have a fundamentally flawed definition of what college is for in the first place. It isn’t a trade school. It isn’t designed to yield us “X” job with “Y” salary. It’s for learning. Period. And with every day you get up and go to class, every extracurricular you attend and every excursion you take to the Everglades or Miami Beach or wherever, you are learning and making college worthwhile.
But this is hard to grasp in the career-oriented culture in which we live. From a young age, we are conditioned to fixate on a single goal and follow a course of milestones to achieve it. We follow a model: Banging on pots leads to mommy-and-me music class to middle school rock band to high school marching band to percussion major to local weddings to touring with the Rolling Stones.
We’re taught that success is determined by how closely we follow a path and how quickly we progress from one milestone to the next. Throw some talent and aptitude in there and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an illustrious career and lifetime of happiness.
We’re taught that we must choose a single profession, wholeheartedly embody every trait associated with it and negate all other interests. But what if this drummer has had a knack for chemistry since he brewed his first concoction from a childhood chemistry set? What if he went on a vacation to Paris in high school which fostered an interest in studying French?
The human brain is delightfully complex and can accommodate so many seemingly dissonant interests, a mystifying element of human nature that brings dimension to our world, which is unparalleled by any other species. But this can also cause friction and confusion when it comes to picking a college major.
That drummer is a classic Sagittarius-Virgo-Aries, like me. He doesn’t fit squarely in a single box and he’s struggling to figure out his major. He could get a bachelor’s in music, but then it would be harder to study chemistry and French. He could get a Bachelor of Arts in percussion and double major in chemistry or in French but then he’d be negating an interest and wouldn’t get as comprehensive a music education. He could get a bachelor’s in music and two minors.
But would he ever sleep? And is all this stress actually amounting to anything? Only about 32 percent of college graduates ever attain jobs related to their major, according to a 2017 study conducted by careerbuilder.com.
All of us, to some degree (no pun intended), struggle to hone in on what course of study is best for us. But that’s OK because college is for trying things that we’ve never tried before. And to whatever degree you pursue each interest you have, you are learning. And you’re learning in the process of forging your own path.
So let’s all just take one huge collective chill pill and stop obsessing about the words inscribed on our diploma because they don’t define us. I am not my star sign but a huge, messy, bubbling pot of traits and you probably are, too.
Dana Munro is a sophomore majoring in musical theater. Glass Half Full runs every Tuesday.