March 25, 2015
I am not a ballerina, nor am I a teacher. If you had told me when I was six that I wasn’t going to grow up and be either of those things, I probably would have been inconsolable. In my tiny child brain, that’s all I could see myself doing as a grownup. Never once did I answer, “I want to be a communications manager in higher education” when asked what I wanted to be. And yet, here I am. I’m not wearing a tutu taking my bows and I’m not reading to children or correcting homework. I couldn’t be happier – I really love what I do.
The other day the question was posed in the office, “What did you want to be when you grew up?” Fighter pilot, astronaut, sports journalist, Miss America and scientist all made the list, though none of us are actually doing those jobs. Only the person who said “artist” and is a graphic designer (and beautiful artist) actually does what she dreamed of as a kid.
So when does it all change? When do we put aside our childhood thoughts about vocation and choose another path? What happens that leads us to different futures that we thought were our callings?
Life happens. There probably isn’t one time or place or circumstance that abruptly altered our direction, but a series of regular things that just happened that led us to be who we are today.
My own path is rather twisted and full of turns. It was clear pretty early on (when I took ballet and cried because I hated it) that prima ballerina was off the list. But teacher remained for a long time. Until a random elective psychology course in high school changed my mind. From there, I majored in psychology at MSU thinking I would someday counsel people through life problems. Nope – still not doing that. (Though I am the only one in the office with a couch and I do get a lot of visitors looking for advice, so I guess I’m kind of doing that).
To make a long story a little shorter, a random job my sister helped me get doing data entry for a U.S. senator made me realize psychology wasn’t my thing but some sort of public relations was. I spent 11 years working for two members of Congress and I loved those jobs too. A chance phone call with a former boss led me to apply for one job at MSU that I didn’t get, that led to another, that I did get. And here I am today, in a job that feels like it was made for me. I couldn’t ever have planned for how I got here, but I’m awfully glad I did. Who knows where I would be if even one of those seemingly random things hadn’t happened? Sometimes, the things we don’t plan for end up being the best.
Juli Wade, a professor and chairperson of MSU’s Department of Psychology, ended up in her career because she didn’t like working in a hot kitchen at Cornell. A connection from a friend led her to find her passion in research and now she’s a behavioral neuroscientist whose federally funded research investigates how structural and biochemical changes in the central nervous system regulate behavior. Read her engaging FACULTY VOICE: Hooked on Research, to learn more about how her path led her to eventual career.
Varsha Koduvayur is an impressive Honors College senior who is triple majoring in international relations, Arabic and comparative cultures and politics. Currently, she’s in Morocco studying under the Arabic Flagship program. She recently took time to write a column about how she came to find her passion for studying foreign policy and counterterrorism after watching the city of Mumbai under siege in 2008. Read her STUDENT VIEW: An (Accidental!) Roadmap to Success, to learn more about how she found her way to her direction in life.
I often meet incoming college students. When I ask them what they want to study, some sheepishly say they don’t know yet. So what? College is supposed to help you find your way. You don’t have to know what you want to do. Let life happen. Be open and ready for some random occurrence to show you your path.
One of the great things about MSU is that there is so much to offer. There’s no need to know what you want the day you walk in the door. Being a student here means having a huge range of things to experience and a variety of educational pursuits.
There are classes in everything from business, law and science to music, art and video game design. If you think you want to do research, you can do that here, even as an undergraduate. If you think you might like to explore the world, MSU’s study abroad offers an incredible wealth of opportunities. If you want to do community service, we’ve got that too. The list goes on and on. You can even take a ballet class.
Everyone will find his or her calling in his or her own way. But no matter the path, no matter how you get there, no matter what you do, when you’re a Spartan the will to make a difference becomes part of who you are.