There's a theme when it comes to my college education: Regret. I never did anything with my degree, let alone pursue a career in the major I graduated in.
That regret goes all the way back to college, when I should have changed majors but never did. I stuck with history throughout my college career, when I should've changed course toward a more lucrative major.
The reasoning goes back to before I even started college. Prior to applying, my family was going through severe financial difficulties, so financial aid was a must for me in my college plans. I looked around for scholarship opportunities, but unfortunately did not invest much time in them; I was more concerned with my grades and filing for FAFSA (Federal Student Aid) while dealing with a difficult situation in my homelife.
At the back of my mind, I also felt that I had a finite amount of time to complete this step in my life. I believed that by time I was in my mid-20s, I should be finished paying off my college debt and entrenched in the working world -- any deviations seemed like a failure on my part. I am still uncertain where this mentality came from and still occasionally struggle with it from time to time.
When I started college, I was fixated with keeping my costs down and finding a work study job since I was financially on my own; if I took on any new expenses, including additional classes, I was the one fronting the bill. After a quick stint renovating the upstairs apartment of the friend of an acquaintance, I landed a work study job at a university department. When I wasn't studying, I was working, and when I wasn't studying I was still working -- I spent my winter and summer vacations there, never stopping except for when the office was closed, when I went on a Birthright Israel trip and when I did a study abroad program.
Throughout college I was plagued by the thought of loan repayment. I had to stick to my goal of being able to pay everything off in a couple years. I kept my living expenses to a minimum and only participated in programs that were free. Then my plan hit a snag when it became clear that if I wanted to teach history, I might not find a job for some time. I went to the administrator and dropped out of the teaching program, but I kept my major in history. If I changed majors, I would have to take on more classes, or worse, start over from scratch, and that meant taking on more debt. It was never a question, and I didn't really think about it afterward.
Then I started to become more involved on campus. I found Hillel and began to invest more in my Jewish identity. And with that came more social activity, where the question would often come up of what I planned to do with my history degree.
I remember one Hillel event when I was asked this question and I answered that I was looking to teach at the college level. Externally, this made sense, though in my mind I had my doubts. Still, it became customary to tell people that I was planning on going for my master's, or more realistically to work for a little then go for my master's. Yet I questioned even the latter option and wondered what I would really do once I graduated.
To make matters more difficult, I was pondering this big question while I was still struggling with depression, antisocial behavior and low self-esteem. That was a large part of why I gave up on the teaching program and didn't aspire to something more or try and consider another career path. I just stayed focused on the task of repayment until I graduated.
This attitude and decision would come back to haunt me after graduation. For three years, I waded through the retail industry in order to pay off my student loans, with plenty of time to reflect on my time at college and my choice of major as I slaved away being the cash register. At times, I felt like a failure in life for not looking into a major that would get me a better career after graduation.
Not helping matters was the embarrassment I felt at parties when I told people not only what I did, but also what degree I had. The popular question of what I was going to do with it soon came with a defeatist response: "I have no idea." Whether it was Shabbatons, parties, functions, email exchanges or the time I sought job recruiters, that was my default response. I said it so many times and not a single time did I not feel ashamed for not trying harder in college.
Thankfully I am out of the retail world and now working in law, which has inspired me to look into obtaining a paralegal certificate in the approximate future, and even consider going to law school down the road. It has given me direction, not to mention something more concrete to say at social get-togethers.
Although I still ruminate over my college decisions with the understanding that I could've reached this point sooner, I know it is never too late to change careers. Yes, it will take hard work and some debt, but I am determined to climb the ladder and scoff the costs. There will always be debts and I should not fear them. Just as I am not bound to a rigid repayment schedule, there is not deadline for fulfilling phases of life.