I dropped out of college. Twice. And right now, I’m working 12-hour shifts, making much less than minimum wage, in order to make ends meet. Do I regret my decision to quit pursuing that paper that would supposedly open the golden gates of life for me? I wish it was easy to say no. But frankly, it isn’t. For some reason, I feel like I should feel guilty for not sticking to my previous choices. What makes me think it’s okay to change my mind like SnapChat changes its filters?
You see throughout my childhood, I’ve always wanted to become a doctor. And, I dreamt of getting that medical degree in no other place than the land of the free: America. For some reason unknown to man, I thought I would be able to afford and elite American college, even though my father works in an African country that couldn’t care less about its government employees. So of course, after just one semester in that American college, I ended up having to quit and come back home because I couldn’t afford it anymore. But apparently, that one semester was enough to show me one thing: I don’t want to become a doctor anymore.
What ha-happened? Everybody in my family, even the children of my third cousins knew that I would become a doctor and nothing else. They even called me, “Doctor Mbingu.” And now all of a sudden, the doctor is giving up on those dying patients before even getting a degree?
Yes, I was nervous to tell people that I found biology boring, that I literally had to constantly pinch myself to stay awake in those one-hour biology lectures. I was afraid of what people would think of me if I told them that I was more excited to go to my ENG 150 creative writing class than to my BIO 201 lab class. I was afraid to announce that I changed my mind about where I wanted to end up in life. So I did the next best thing: I told my father that I’d be fine quitting my American college program because I would just transfer to a biotechnology program in South Africa, something that would eventually lead me to medicine. I told him that I was still going to become a doctor, even though I now had a brain cramp just at the thought of 8 years of medical school.
I moved over to the ever so vibrant city of Durban on the eastern coast of South Africa. But after just one week of lectures at my new university there, I started hating my life. How much can you care about the different types of bacterial wall structures and the logarithm laws that can tell you how much bacteria is on your phone? For me, my care cup had apparently been spilled out somewhere in the Atlantic as I flew back to Africa. I got bored pretty quick with my biotechnology course. And at the end of that week, I wasn’t just thinking of quitting, I was already making my three part plan on how I would get the heck out of that city, find a job, and get myself a nice apartment back in Windhoek.
So I quit. Again.
But the thing is, right now, I’m having some mortal combat going on in my head. I just don’t know if I made the right decision. I know I can work hard to support myself. I value hard work and I know I’ll work hard to be the best that I can be with whatever I end up doing. I plan to go to start an online creative writing degree program by a British university so it’s not like I’m quitting college forever… But somehow I feel like I don’t have the right to change my mind so many times like I did. Why? Is it because so many people are shamed for doing just that? For daring to change?
Look at Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, or Lilly Singh. These are celebrities that have changed throughout their careers, and say what you will about the direction of their change, but they all received and continue to receive an insane amount of criticism for not sticking to their old selves. For not staying the way we knew them 5 or 10 years ago. It’s almost like we expect people to stay in the little cages that we’ve made for them in our minds, the this-is-how-I-know-you-so-you-better-stay-that-way cage. We expect them to stay prisoners to their reputation.
And so maybe because I see changed looked on so negatively, I feel that I would also be criticized if I dared to not live up to my reputation. That’s why I’m having so many mental battles about my decisions.
But look at it this way: Say you’re lost on an island with your family. After some panicking and some calming down, and some motivation to fight on, you promise them that you’ll go out to look for some reeds so you can build a raft and get off the island. But while you’re out looking for reeds, you find a 5-star yacht that promises to take you to civilization in style, as long as you wash the dishes while you’re on board. You’d be stupid to not take the offer, wouldn’t you? Sure you promised your family some reeds, but that was before you knew a yacht was an option too.
I promised my myself, my family, and my friends, that I would go out there and study hard to become a doctor so that I can build a raft that will help me survive this thing called life. But on my way to medicine, I found creative writing: something that will bring me happiness and fulfilment as I walk on to my death instead of just keeping me alive; something that will bring me contentment and success, even if that success is not in the form of a six-figure salary. Sure I promised to become a doctor, but that was before I knew creative writing was an option. Come on, I should be allowed to change my mind guilt-free!
Nobody should be a prisoner of their reputation. Part of growing up and becoming wiser is changing our old views and beliefs and getting a wider perspective of life. Swapping out old dreams for new ones. I shouldn’t feel guilty for changing my mind, as long as I promise to keep trying to be the best human being that I can be. And maybe you should also do the same. What do you think?