A while ago, I made a bad decision. When I say a while ago, I mean in 1980. OK, it was a long, long while ago. It was my the start of my second year of university after finishing high school. I had chosen a four year social work degree because I wanted to learn about how to help people. After the first year I had learned two things, I was great at psychology, and I hated social work.
Social work is a good first degree in many ways, because it draws an a wide range of disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and philosophy in addition to social work specific theory and practice. Its general education that takes a little bit from here and there. Psychology 1 was a compulsory first year subject taught by the Psychology Dept to a wide range of incoming students from a variety of streams. I liked humanist psychology, and I could do the “rats and stat” although I wasn’t convinced that scientific research on animals was a good way to understand the human heart and mind. Even so, I excelled at this subject, and that feedback was difficult to overlook.
The first year social work subject Australian Social Organisation, on the other hand, had me bored out of my mind. It was the first sign that an in depth study of the welfare system wasn’t going to be my thing. I was interested in how peoples minds worked, rather than in social and organisational support systems. Looking ahead at the course structure I could see that the psychology strand was going to dry up and be replaced by more welfare subjects. What to do?
OK. Its obvious what to do. Switch to psychology. Get myself out of there and try something else. I could have switched to Arts and done Psychology and English. I could have switched a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and become a Clinical Psychologist. This possibility was so obvious that it did occur to me to find out the last day to change courses and research options for continuing psychology.
So here’s what happened. Nothing. I watched “last day to change” move closer and closer. I racked my brains about whether I should change or not. On the night before the last day to change I agonised intensely about whether to change. But I didn’t change.
I don’t regret any courses or jobs that I started, but I do regret finishing a few things. I regret staying in courses that I wasn’t enjoying. I regret staying too long in jobs that were no longer challenging. I regret completing four years of a social work degree which I was not enjoying, and spending the rest of my life feeling like a “failed social worker” because I never went ahead and got a job in that field, even though I didn’t enjoy it.
Looking back to that agonising non-decision so many years ago, I wish I knew that it was OK to try something then change your mind if it didn’t fit. It’s OK to do a course for a little while, learn what you need to know, and move on. Its OK to try different jobs to see what you enjoy, learn new skills and experience variety. I wish could have cut myself some slack at 20 years of age, and tried a few different options.
Knowing when to move is still something I struggle with, because although I am someone who craves variety, I don’t love the process of change. I don’t enjoy applying for jobs, and I am not a big fan of applying for courses that take months to commence and years to complete. Having said that, its uncomfortable to stay with something when the excitement has left the building.
I am still working on this question of how to decide what to do and when to move on. Right now I feel the need for a change, but I’m not sure how to quit “doing nothing” other than by “doing something.” Of course I am not doing nothing; I am writing and exploring options for having a small business. I have been loving the freedom to decide what to do with my days and I want to continue to have time to explore my own interests and try out new things. Having said that I am starting to get a tiny bit bored, and I am not enjoying seeing my finances dwindle. I am thinking it could be good to get back out into the world of structured work on a small scale to connect with people and make some money. I don’t want to make the mistake of ignoring the urge for change for too long.