When I was four years old, I wanted to grow up to be a pink bunny. When I was five, that dream changed to a horse. Then at six, I finally settled on a related but more refined occupation: veterinarian. This sentiment followed me all the way through high school and into college when I immediately declared a zoology, pre-veterinary major.
Everyone told me growing up that the way to set myself apart and really stand out for veterinary school was to start early and gain a lot of experience. I took this to heart in eighth grade and arranged to volunteer at the small animal practice in my town. I arrived at my first day of volunteering with an empty stomach and a taxed respiratory system from a morning run immediately prior.
Still, they threw me into the operating room, where the veterinarian gave me the vague instructions to sit down if I started feeling nauseous. I had absolutely no idea what nausea felt like so I just nodded politely.
Five minutes later, the technicians wheeled in an anesthesia-ridden dog that needed a tumor removed. The last time I had seen a dog unconscious was when we euthanized my dog Deets six years earlier. This dog, with its black coat and medium build, resembled Deets, except it had a large growth on its rib cage. I stood a few feet back from the table while the professionals pulled on surgical gloves and prepared their tools.
“So we’re just going to remove this tumor,” the veterinarian said. “It’s a basic operation.” It seemed simple enough. The tumor wasn’t huge; it would be just like picking an (infected, tissue-filled) apple from a tree. I had nothing to worry about.
The vet grasped the scalpel that I recognized from my science class frog dissection and made the first cut. A trickle of blood oozed from either side of the slice and she continued, exposing a corner of the tumor itself.
“You doing okay?” one of the technicians asked me. I nodded solemnly and forced myself to look on, but then all mass seemed to exit my head and someone turned all the lights to full power and for a moment I was weightless in this strange operating room, free-falling to the concrete bed beneath me. I blinked to see faces above me, cradling my head and talking frantically.
Then I realized that perhaps nausea was the feeling that one gets before she collapses in a veterinarian’s operating room and that perhaps sitting down at the onset of that feeling would have prevented the concrete impact to my head. I smiled and assured the professionals that I was just fine, but they suggested that I go home early for the day.
I never volunteered at that practice–or any practice–again, but still I happily reported to inquirers that I would become a vet. Once at college, I took the required intro to pre-vet course and realized that everyone around me had already clocked hours of volunteer work and that none of them were prone to fainting near blood–I once tried to donate blood, but passed out when they pricked my finger and was advised to not try again for 5-8 years.
After weeks of late-night existential crises and some serious soul-searching, I realized that I had no desire to be a vet. I’m not sure I really ever did after my fainting episode, but I felt silly thinking about any other career.
Sure, I had always enjoyed my language arts and literature classes more than anything else and never really fell in love with science, but everything around me screamed to follow a STEM career. I thought that if I strayed from STEM, then I would let down the entire female population by not contributing to gender equality. I knew that I had every ability and opportunity to succeed there, so I might as well do it for the sake of feminism. Veterinary school was not in my future, but I stuck with my zoology major because I couldn’t think of anything better.
Now, one year later, I finally think I know what I want to do with my life, and it’s not in STEM. In fact, I might not take any science classes for the remainder of my college career.
I want to be Jad Abumrad or Ira Glass when I grow up. These two are geniuses in the radio journalism world and their work on Radiolab and This American Life is awe-inspiring. I’ve always been intrigued by journalism, but adding the radio medium to it introduces another level of creativity and innovation that combines all my favorite things: writing about amazing things and interesting people, traveling to cool places to find a story, and sharing it all with the world.
This revelation, which is not really a revelation but rather a reasonable application of my skills and interests, sparked another mighty dilemma: choosing a new major.
After much angst and deliberation, I have settled (for the time being) on a double major in English and Education with a minor in Writing. I’m still open to this changing, but after two weeks in English classes I feel right at home with my fellow story-lovers and word-analyzers. I realize that this major is regularly scoffed at, but I have already received enough ridicule for my veganism that I have confidence to ignore the haters and make my own life choices.
Even though six-year-old me thought she wanted to be a vet, six-year-old me was also knee-deep in the Harry Potter series at the time. If she thought about it, she would have realized that books and stories were the only straight shot to her soul. Finally, 13 years later, I am diving into a world with less job security, but one with the meaning and platform that I need to fly. And this breeze could take me anywhere.