Allison was just about ready to start her senior year in aeronautical engineering at Georgia Tech when she looked around and realized that she was miserable. She was working herself to exhaustion and losing her zest for life. So she made a drastic move to get her life back.
“It’s just more practical.”
“It’ll make more money.”
“It’ll be easier to get a job with an engineering degree.”
“I just don’t understand. Why are you changing your major?”
I heard all of these things when I announced that I was changing my major from engineering to liberal arts. I was in my third year of an engineering degree, so why change now? Wouldn’t it be easier to finish and get the engineering degree?
As simple as it sounds, there was a lot more at stake than it seems on the surface.
In high school, life was a piece of cake: I got good grades, I played in the band, and I had great friends. I was happy. Life was good. I excelled in math and science especially — or at least that was what was emphasized for me. I was a girl who was one of the top math students in the school. All my teachers told me that I should go into engineering, that I should be a woman in STEM. I was good at it, so why not?
When I decided what to study in college — like most things I do — I went all-in. I wanted to do the most exciting and extreme engineering there was, so I decided to study aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech. For three years, I studied in this top-ranked, prestigious engineering program.
Like anyone would expect, it was challenging. It was more than challenging. I was staying up all night to get my work done. I was consuming energy drinks to get through every day. I was always overwhelmed. I was working myself raw.
On top of that, I was depressed. I wasn’t showering. I wasn’t eating. I thought all my friends hated me. I was anxious all the time. I couldn’t even get out of bed. Some days I didn’t want to be alive. Read that line again: I was struggling to live.
But I thought this was just “the college experience.” I thought everyone felt that way. It never occurred to me that something might be wrong.
One day, I was watching TV. I was watching Bo Burnham’s comedy special, Make Happy. It was incredibly well done, but there was one thing that stuck out to me. At the end of the special, Bo sings one last song, “Are You Happy?” He sings, “Are you happy? Because you’re on your own from here — so are you happy?”
That question really struck a chord (my apologies for the pun). It made me think, Am I happy? The answer was very clearly no. I wasn’t happy. I wished I was, but I truly wasn’t.
I mulled over it for months. Why am I not happy? How can I get happy? Finally, I found some answers. I hated being alive, but why? I hated all my classes. I hated math. Most importantly, I hated engineering. I hated what I was supposed to love. I hated what I was working so hard to do for the rest of my life.
Then I realized that I had a starting point: I knew what I didn’t like — so what does make me happy? I gave myself the freedom to wonder if I could do anything I wanted, without considering practicality, what would it be?
I loved being creative. I loved being in a band. I loved reading. I loved writing.
If I could do anything for the rest of my life, I decided that I wanted to write.
So I made a commitment to change my life. I wanted to be happy. I needed to put my mental health first. I stopped staying up late for classwork. I stopped drinking energy drinks. I started making time for my hobbies. I started joining clubs for fun. Maybe most importantly, I switched my major. I switched from aerospace engineering to literature, media, and communications.
It was a big transition. I changed from being a woman in STEM to being just another woman in literature. The classes that I loathed didn’t matter anymore. I dropped all the classes that were of no value to me. I wanted to work on my writing, so I joined the school newspaper. I started writing articles and couldn’t stop.
I started out writing from my own experience — I shared my struggle with depression in a column. I soon became addicted to writing. It was like falling in love. I wanted to write about everything. I started coming up with stories in my spare time. I started writing for the entertainment and news sections. I started writing and couldn’t stop. My whole life changed — and all because of a comedy special.
After that, life got easier. I was investing my life in an effort that was making me a better person, not a worse one. I could take a shower without it feeling like a chore. I was loving school again. I felt awake for the first time in years. Finally, I was happy.
Looking back, I wonder if it was God intervening. It felt like I was a dog trying to eat a plastic bag, and God was the loving owner pulling it out of my throat. I wanted to be an engineer, but it was killing me. Was God speaking to me through Bo Burnham in that comedy special?
Maybe. Maybe God was present within my unease and discontent, nudging me to wake up. And maybe I had just reached a point where something had to give. I was not cooperating with the gifts God had given me — I was fighting who I was created to be. And for what? Just to prove I could do something difficult?
One thing is sure: I know that I’ve found my calling. It doesn’t mean everything is easy or painless, but I know I’m on firm ground.
It took a lot to uproot my education. I had one year left, so the practical choice would have been to just finish, and then turn to something new. So why did I pivot so drastically? I didn’t do it to spite anyone, and I didn’t do it because someone forced me. I did it to live.