The Day I Realized I Was Reliving My Mother's Life
How I Figured Out What I Really Want To Do
When I applied for university, it was to engineering programs. I knew my major going in, and that was electrical engineering. It made perfect sense to me at the time—I dedicated all of high school to robotics, and there was nothing in the world I loved more than making things. But there was another thing motivating me, and it took me a lot of soul searching to realize what that was: I went into electrical engineering because it was hard.
Now. There is tremendous value in pursuing things that are difficult. Of course there is. But, there's a difference between a challenge, and something that is making you unhappy—and my pursuit of electrical engineering, even when higher-level physics and calculus courses were reducing me to tears, was the latter. I think it's an amazing subject, and I still love building things and making electrical systems work... but as a field, it's not for me. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
My mother made the same mistakes. And what's funny is, I knew that. It's something she'd told me over and over again throughout my childhood—She went into engineering because she was convinced that that was the field for the smart girls, even though she realized pretty quickly that she didn't like it, and would have been happier pursuing business or economics.
One of the reasons it took me so long to come to that conclusion was that I was being pushed to make it, practically since I started college. My mother and I are a lot more alike than I like to think, but we're not the same. I resented her behaving like she knew me better than I knew myself. I resented her saying that engineering wasn't what I really wanted to do or that math wasn't my subject, especially because at the time, there was nothing indicating that either of those things were true. So I pushed back, threw myself even further into engineering, refusing to even consider that she might have a point.
Ultimately, it was analog signal processing that made me think, I can't do this anymore. Not think in the sense of coming to a slow, rational conclusion, but in the sense of spending weeks having panic attacks, and feeling on the verge of a nervous breakdown and wanting to be home more than anything else in the world. I hated that class. In retrospect, it doesn't make all that much sense. In retrospect, I know I'm smart enough to do the work. But it made me feel horrible about myself, and my intelligence, and my capabilities. I needed space to breathe.
So, I transferred schools. I changed my major. And I spent a long time feeling like a failure and a quitter for it. I cried, I screamed, I didn't know what I wanted out of my life. For months, I didn't ever feel like leaving the house. But over time, it got better. I started to enjoy my work and my classes again. I stopped feeling apathetic and miserable about everything. It took a while, but I'm happy.
Computer science may come more naturally to me than electrical engineering did, but why does that have to be a bad thing? It's the kind of challenge that's fun, not brutally exhausting. It's a challenge that I set for myself. The basics of programming? Not hard! They're simple enough to be boring. What's fun and challenging is what you do with them. That's what makes computer science a subject that I can challenge myself with, as much as I feel like. And I can still build things whenever I want! I can still make whatever electrical system I feel like, whatever circuit boards I need. I just don't have to work myself into the ground doing it.
I was repeating all my mother's mistakes. But now I'm not. Now I know what I want to do with my life. And now I'm finally comfortable doing what am doing. It wasn't easy to get here, but in some ways, I'm glad for that—Sure, I could have done without the misery and heartache. But now, I understand what it feels like when something is wrong. Now I know I can handle it. And now, I'm finally ready to make the choices that are good for me, without hesitation and without apology.