The Mentorship Spot
Your Major and Identity
By Rebecca Kim
It’s highly likely that the last time you met someone new, the first question asked was “what’s your major?”. If you’re not yet enrolled in post-secondary, the question you’ve likely been asked by many a relative or friend is “what are you going to study?”. These aren’t necessarily bad questions. You can learn a lot about a person by their response: whether
they share your love of literature, whether you can geek out together over molecular models, or whether they are in business and you should run the other way. The shared commiseration between members of the same program also makes for the beginnings of a wonderful community that can develop by the answer to this question of “what’s your major?”. But it’s a startling realization when you find out that this question never goes away. First it’s “what’s your major?”, next it’s “what’s your profession?”, “where do you work?” and “could you please step aside? You’re in my way and I’m trying to get to the salad bar.”
If you’ve ever been in a position where you find that you can’t very clearly articulate an answer to the above questions–minus the last one (the simple response would be to just step aside), you understand what a challenging feeling this can be. When someone you’ve never met before approaches you with positive intentions, asking those fabled questions and you can’t fully answer them without lying at least a little bit, something inside you breaks a little; like the realization that some people intentionally seek out the salad bar at a fancy event, and you had gotten in the way whilst heading towards a perfectly piled display of desserts. Not knowing which direction you are facing as everyone around seems to be walking straight forward on a path it seems only they can see is very disorienting. To face the English Major, the Life Science Major, the Illustration Major, and proudly confess your major as capital ‘U’, “Undeclared” is frightening. How will you be perceived? How will you be able to bond? If they don’t know you understand basic algebra, or know the chemical formula for heptane, or think that Immanuel Kant is a bore, how will you ever get to the point where you hang out on weekends, or get invited to that new movie that came out in theatres? The Major is the doorway to the relationships that will last a lifetime, and a career that will last until retirement, so how on earth can you dive head first into social interaction without one? How on earth can you decide?
This herein lies the problem. As students step into themselves as learners and members of society, the school system asks them to choose the thing that they believe they must do forever. The Major becomes a proponent of self-identification, self-assurance and self-crippling anxiety. We stand in awe of figures who achieve more than one thing in their lives, like former NFL player, court sketcher and now actor, Terry Crews. We marvel at people that have accomplished things from many different areas of life, but fail to recognize our own agency and ability to do the very same thing. Instead of being able to develop each facet of ourselves at our own pace, we are expected to achieve excellence, prestige and renown in a singular realm. We want to achieve all these things in a singular realm. Whispers of expertise and self-worth call out to us and tempt us towards its treasures. Doing it this way, it is easier to organize oneself in such a manner, to understand yourself and be understood. But in the end, we are handicapping ourselves from our full potential.
Life is always changing. It is the one thing you can always count on, that things change, people change, and yet life goes on. Be open to all the possibilities life can and will throw at you. You are not your major, your school or your GPA. When we wrap up our identity in one thing, the more difficult it becomes to separate ourselves from it, and the more easily we can feel personally injured upon facing challenges in that area of our life.