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By October, panic erupted in my chest when I thought about the future.

How wonderful it is to create things like this!

I took a deep breath, tapping the side of my keyboard nervously, wondering if I was about to make the best decision of my life or a horrible mistake. The Common App website glowed expectantly back at me, patiently waiting for me to click a button and decide my future—a tiny action that wielded momentous effects. It felt like sitting with a psychic in a dimly-lit room, shadows dancing over two cards placed on the table. All I had to do was choose, and my future would unfurl from there. 

Enzo Tommasi https://unsplash.com/photos/wlxJ4idMTUk

If you had asked me to choose my career five years, one year, six months, even one month before I applied for colleges, I would have given you the same self-assured answer: Marine Biologist. I read about marine biology in a science careers book in fourth grade and fell in love with it. From there, my interest and love could only seem to expand.

I went to the Aquarium of the Pacific as often as my dad was willing to take me. I began volunteering at a local aquarium as a freshman. I bought books on whales and seals; I took classes in high school that I knew would help me as a STEM major; I got so psyched about exploring the depths of the ocean for a living. Every time I would fantasize about the future, the image of me, the marine biologist feeding sea otters and swimming with sharks popped up.

Probably the first inkling of doubt that crept into my mind was when I volunteered in a citizen science program watching for dolphins and using the data to make a scientific presentation. Before long, I groaned every time I had to go collect data, and when the time came to make the presentation, I practically drowned in the boredom of it. A small flare of panic lit in me. If this wasn’t fun, what would the future be like? Isn’t this what my life is going to be like someday? I ignored it. I couldn’t doubt myself now. I know what I like, and that’s marine biology.

Fast forward to when I started looking at and applying to colleges. Every time I took a look at marine biology classes, I got a little twist of unease in my stomach. All the colleges told me that I would start out with general biology and study the specifics in my junior year. I cringed at the thought of those first two years; I practically flinched at the notion of taking Molecular Biology and Evolutionary Biology and even classes that related to my major, like Marine Plant Ecology or Phytoplankton Biology. While in August I was positive about this track, by October, panic erupted in my chest when I thought about the future. 

I came to something of a breaking point the day after my birthday, sitting outside a small coffee shop with my aunt. We were discussing my future, and I started to think about my decisions and my major and my career and my life, and suddenly things were spilling out: What if I don’t want this? What if I hate all my classes and then hate my career? Why did I even think I wanted to be a scientist; I don’t even like science class or the scientific method or collecting data or anything I’m supposed to like. 

“So, if not marine biology,” inquired my clearly concerned aunt, “what do you want to major in instead?”

I hardly had to think about my answer, which I guess should have been a sign. “Art,” I replied simply.

And from there, slowly and surely, I clicked all the little buttons I needed to in order to choose art instead. With one push of a domino, they all came tumbling down, leading me in a new, fresh direction. I told my family about my change of heart, changed my college applications, started to research careers in illustration, found where I might go and what I might be. 

As I adjusted, I (somewhat absurdly) kept thinking back to the conversation with my aunt about changing my major. When I went to the bathroom of the coffee shop, I stood looking around in astonishment: The whole room—walls, floor, and ceiling—was coated in words and doodles from people who had visited. The grimy tile had become a statement, a message, a slice of divine guidance, and, most importantly, an art piece.

My thoughts sang. How wonderful it is to create things like this! How surreally perfect is art! It was such a small, seemingly insignificant thing, but at that moment, I looked around the bathroom laughing to myself and feeling, for the first time in a long time, truly excited about where I was going in the future.

Sarah Walker Avatar