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JUNE 5, 2009   

On soil testing...and choosing a career

Soil test kit and containers of soil and waterI took my DIY testing kit out to the garden today to see if my soil has all the yummy stuff that tomatoes like. As I laid out my containers of soil and water and took the little test tubes out of the package it reminded me of my brief college career as a Chemistry major at the University of Dayton. That lasted about a year.

You might blame Organic Chemistry and Calculus II for pushing me towards the exit, and they helped, but truth is I was never interested in being a chemist. This important—you might say critical—fact was invisible to me until a friend's remark hit me upside the head.     

We were sitting at a table in a coffeehouse and Charis, also a Chemistry major, asked if I was going to the ACS meeting. The what? The ACS, the student chapter of the American Chemical Society, duh. I remember my reaction as clearly as if it were yesterday: Why would I want to do that? I don't give a shit about Chemistry.

I didn't decide to change my major right then and there, but the conversation nagged at the back of my brain. It took a movie I a few weeks later to send me out of the theater with the decision made: I was no longer a Chemistry major! Starting next semester it was Fine Arts for me. Probably the best decision I'd made to that point in my life, and one of the first times I thought for myself instead of following the advice of others.

You see, I became a Chemistry major because people had told me to. Not in those exact words, more like this: "You're a good student, you should become a scientist!" Or, if they'd noticed that I liked to draw: "You're a good student and you like to draw, you should become an engineer!" I ultimately chose Chemistry after my experience with science courses in high school. Biology was too icky. Physics was too hard. That left Chemistry.

I think of this often when talking with my students at Cuyahoga Community College. Some are Interactive Media majors for reasons like to mine at UD: someone told them it would be a good major for them, or they looked at the other choices and IM was the best of an unappealing lot. It's pretty obvious when I ask them how much time they spend on the web or what design magazines they read or to name their favorite designer, web or otherwise. When they give me that blank "Why should I care?" look I know they're in the Chemistry major mode.

My advice? Do what you love, now and always. If you don't know what that is, keep trying different things until you find it. Life is too short to live it based on other people's expectations, or to just go through the motions because you don't know any better.

I'd say more about this, but would like to hear from you. How did you discover your career, your life's work, or your place in the world? Did it take a revelation like mine, or did you know all along? Click the "Comments" link below to share your story. 

Test tubes with different colors of liquid showing levels of nutrientsOh, and this morning's soil test? It turned out like this:

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