During the first year of my university studies, I switched my major three times. Before I stepped foot on the campus, I knew what I wanted to study, but I chose not to out of fear. I was highly encouraged to follow a mainstream path and study something that would guarantee a job.
So I listened to the well meaning advice and started out with a very traditional major. I soon discovered that was not going to work for me, so I switched to another “secure” major. But ultimately, I was not happy there either. I did not feel like myself and I wasn’t nourished with what I was learning. I chose these majors simply out of fear.
Fear that I wouldn’t have a job unless I studied a traditional major.
Fear that I wouldn’t make enough money to sustain a household unless I studied AB or C.
Fear that I would be letting people down.
Fear that I would be wasting my education unless I studied something “realistic.”
Instead of following my true interests, I listened to what people told me I should be doing in order to live a successful life. But I was miserable. I had a hard time paying attention in class, I stressed about my life path, my grades were struggling and I complained a lot.
But one day it hit me like a ton of bricks. Someone said to me, “Emily, why don’t you study what you love?” I didn’t know what to say, that simply sounded like a utopic decision. After all, family and child science? What security was there? What would I even do? How would that translate into anything substantial? But the more I put off switching majors, the more negative feelings I experienced. So I took the advice and a huge leap of faith and switched for the third time, to my final major, family and child science.
This decision changed everything.
I loved every single class. I felt like myself again and I was beyond passionate about my education. I doubted myself on occasion, but I was lucky to have some amazing professors who helped me stay connected to my real self, rather than continue to identify with the naysayers and do something that wasn’t going to make me happy.
But the adversity continued, even from people who loved me.
It was not uncommon for me find myself sitting down in a conversation about changing my path or to receive articles about “the lowest paying majors” with mine ranking in the top 10. A family friend once said, with a snarky chuckle, “You are studying family and child science? So that means you will be a glorified babysitter?” Diminishing interactions like this were commonplace. Other people’s insecurities and fears drove them to try and pull me into “what I was supposed to do.” But I wasn’t interested. I tried that and it didn’t work. I wanted to study what I loved and I had faith that with enough passion and grit I would create the life I want.
I graduated a year early and after spending the summer working in Cambodia, I went straight into studying for my Masters Degree in Counselor Education: Marital Couple and Family Therapy. I was enthralled once again with my work. I loved learning about the brain, relationships, theories, counseling and why we are the way we are. I knew I made the right decision. I knew this was for me.
But it came again.
The week before I graduated with my Masters degree I was told by an established therapist, “In this line of work you need to do your time. You will be a cog in the wheel. You will be overworked, underpaid and get burnt out. But after a few years, you can maybe do what you want.” Here I was graduating after 7 years in college, full of enthusiasm, bright eyed and bushy-tailed…only to be told I will be a cog in the wheel. I was puzzled as to how I was expected to work with clients and preach self care, catering to mental health, living as our true selves and following dreams if I, the therapist, was expected to live in complete opposition. Had I deemed that career path to be the only way, I would have been adhering to someone else’s vision. That path could have been riddled with the fear that enevitably comes with following dreams. That path was counterintuitive for me and frankly, it was not going to serve anybody well.
Now, as you know I am a therapist in private practice. I also do business consulting and career based performance coaching. A large part of my work is focused on processing through mental blocks and managing fears in order to live a fulfilling life. I love what I do. I love this work. I was intentional with this path and it has served me, my family and others well.
While advice and suggestions are often said out of love, we need to know when to protect ourselves, our dreams and our paths from the insecurity of others. Fear leads people into living lives they despise. It leads people into depression, anxiety, self loathing and pain. Basing prominent decisions off of fear can be exponentially damaging. If we are always making safe calls out of fear, we end up bitter, resentful and frustrated. There is a place for fear in life, absolutely. But letting it lead does not tend to serve us well.
If we want incredible lives, marriages, families, careers, communities…we need to start by expecting more than the standard. Sometimes we need to make decisions that are not popular. Sometimes we need to trust our gut, even if it is difficult. Sometimes we need to jump into fear now in order to live a better life later.
We need to hold onto our passion and let it take the drivers seat.
We need to keep that magic in our hearts alive and when it is threatened with fear from others we need to self protect and redirect those relationships in order to keep that glimmer from being stomped out.
Being yourself and following your true passion is not always easy, but it is always worth it.
“Bravery is not the absence of fear. Bravery is feeling the fear, the doubt, the insecurity, and deciding that something else is more important.”
-Written by Emily De La Torre, LMHC