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How the search for a major taught me to be optimistic

I need two hands to count all the possible majors I considered, but it was worth it in the end

One of the reasons I chose to attend the University was because it allowed me to come in undecided with what I wanted to study. The thought of choosing a major before entering college — and before I had any sense of what I wanted to do with my life — was frightening. Trusting I’d somehow end up with an intended major after three and a half semesters, I took a leap of faith into my collegiate career. 

This decision to be undecided was a little atypical of me. Like many of us, I prefer to maintain as much control as I can in my life. As a result, I had to learn not to focus on the possible negative outcomes of my journey and to trust that everything would work out in the end. These were both difficult pills to swallow for me, as I felt like I was leaving this major life decision up to either luck, chance or some combination of the two  — no pressure. But it was with this in mind that I plunged headfirst into this winding path of indecisiveness.

During my first semester, I simply took classes to fulfill my  general education requirements in the College of Arts and Sciences. I ended up falling in love with one of my courses, an introductory philosophy class. However, as you might expect given the introduction to this column, my enjoyment from the subject faded after two semesters of philosophy classes, and I found myself back at square one.

Then came oceanography. I grew up spending much of my summer vacations around the ocean, so this subject fascinated me since I could learn about the same natural phenomena I had witnessed first-hand as a kid. I considered majoring in environmental science, but unfortunately, my interest in oceanography did not extend to the rest of the environmental science major curriculum.

As the end of my first year drew to a bleak and dreary close due to a certain pandemic, I found myself doubting my ability to find a major I’d genuinely like, value and not want to drop after a few months. Since I hadn’t found a potential major by the end of my first year, my earlier worries were brought to light again —  that I had just thrown my life into the wind and put my sail up without a rudder.  

It was at this point that I realized I had to trust in the process that is a liberal arts education to find my major. Ideally, such an education should help form well-rounded individuals by allowing them to explore multiple fields of study. Unfortunately, a possible consequence of this process is simply inconclusiveness and more confusion after being exposed to so many options and possibilities. 

I had previously taken the introductory courses and found them intriguing, especially in the ways they put forth basic principles that could be broadly applied to the decisions of both institutions — specifically, businesses or government — and individuals. But it wasn’t until this past winter break that I very subtly realized that I truly wanted to study economics. A friend of mine at home lent me a book titled “Freakonomics,” co-written by economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner — I loved its nuanced approach to the seemingly intimidating field of economics and promptly followed up with the sequel. After those, I found myself diving into yet another book on economics. Now, I don’t consider myself an incredibly avid reader, but my appetite for this subject was insatiable — that’s when I knew that I had to major in it.

So, I made it to the promised land of intended majors. Ostensibly, my path was quite indirect and occasionally meandered — I didn’t even mention my brief affairs with commerce, history and statistics. But while there was doubt along the way, I did learn to trust in this “process” that many of us go through as first- and second-years. I came to understand how to let go of my worries and take a leap of faith by reminding myself that some things simply require a positive outlook and  trust in eventuality. Reflecting on this journey, I realized that my somewhat irrational belief that I’d eventually find a major stemmed directly from these two things.

Thus, I’ve come to realize how important optimism and trust are in achieving our biggest goals. At the beginning of our most audacious undertakings — whether it’s attempting to swim across a body of water or trying to choose a field of study that will influence the rest of our lives — we are usually left feeling as if the odds are stacked against us. Rationally speaking, it might not always make sense to take on such challenges, but sometimes we must and often we do. 

It’s with this positivity about the future and trust that things will work out that we decide to proceed. For example — and in foreshadowing an impending column — I would never have started working towards my goal of running a marathon without these two lessons I’ve learned. Now, I’m well on my way to making this dream of 26.2 miles a reality. 

So don’t forget that sometimes a positive outlook is necessary, and try to learn to trust in the process — whatever that may mean for you. These mindsets are sure to help us meaningfully fulfill our lives at the end of the day.

Mario Rosales is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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