Since elementary school at least, I’ve known I wanted to be an English major. And before that, I knew I wanted to be a writer — I still do, though I’ve expanded my definition of what that means quite a bit. And even before I enrolled in my first semester of classes at EMU, that’s the major I declared.
English, for me, is like that person you start dating before you’re old enough to understand what that means — you just know you want to be with them. And then you stay together for years and years and get married right out of high school, because it’s right. You just fit. It’s steady and stable and you know they’ll always be there for you. You have moments of passion and romance, but ultimately what keeps you together is that they make you better, and you wouldn’t know what to do without them.
Now I’ve never had a romantic relationship like that, so maybe I got some of the details wrong. But that’s how I feel about English. We’re meant to be together, and we’ll spend the rest of our lives together. English is and always will be my first love.
If English is my soulmate, music was that childhood friend I always liked and got along with, but never really saw “that way” — but then I had that moment like in the movies when she puts on a pretty dress and takes her glasses off, and you realize she’s been right in front of you this whole time.
I grew up around music. My mom was a music Major in college. My parents took me to piano lessons from the age of six through eighth grade, when my brother and I convinced them to stop making us go. I went to a Mennonite church, singing four-part harmony. It’s not like I didn’t have any exposure to good music; I just needed a push in the right direction.
One of my best friends in high school loved music, and she helped me realize how beautiful and transcendent music could be. Starting around senior year, I was hooked. It was love at first sight. I joined my high school choir and took a few voice lessons, and I liked it. And In the car on the way home from summer orientation before I started at EMU, I asked my mom what she would think if I declared a Music minor.
I fell hard and fast. My first semester of college, I signed up for Introduction to Music Theory and Women’s Choir. By the following semester, I had declared a minor, and by the semester after that, I had declared an Interdisciplinary major.
When I told my friend I was declaring a Music major, she exclaimed something like, “But you need something more practical!” at which point I clarified that I would keep my English major as well — she seemed somewhat reassured. I wondered what I was doing with my life to be in a place where English was my practical major.
I had a bit of a honeymoon phase with music after that. I was enamored with everything I was learning and went into raptures at every piece that I heard — I wondered how everyone else could be so callous to such beauty. My sophomore year I pretty much lived in Lehman — for those of you who don’t know, there’s a music department in the basement. I found friends and community and belonging in the small, closely-knit department — a community that enthusiastically welcomed me with open arms.
But it wasn’t long before my newfound love started getting a little rocky. Music is a demanding partner, taking up time and emotional energy outside of the classes that you take. You have practice, choirs, assessment, music events to attend. I also had a pretty steep learning curve. Having played piano and sung soprano my whole life, my ear wasn’t terribly developed, and I wasn’t great at sight-reading.
Music Theory was hard and time-consuming and robbed me of my sleep. I felt like I had entered a new culture that I didn’t fully understand. After a final assessment that made me want to cry, I took a good, long look at what I really wanted.
In the fall of my junior year, I took a break from my relationship with music — in the form of a cross-cultural in China — which gave me a chance to figure out what I really wanted and whether it was wise to continue. And I realized that a lot of my problems were temporary and circumstantial, and that despite all its flaws, this relationship made me better.
So I came back, but with a clearer, more realistic, more level head. I had put myself out there and gotten hurt, but every bit of the wild ride was worth it. There are so many friends that I’ve made and experiences that I’ve had because I embraced this infatuation. My college experience would have been so much poorer without it. And that’s what I’ll take with me as I graduate.
Wherever you are in life, you pretty much always have something that takes up most of your time — we’ll call this your day job. If you don’t have a day job that you spend your time on to further some end — education, a paycheck, the good of humanity, etc. — the general consensus is that there’s something wrong, that your life isn’t going anywhere. There’s a certain level of truth to this: If you don’t have something to spend your days on, you’ll go a little crazy.
Before college, my day job was school. Now … well, it’s still school, but specifically my English major, which is something that gives me joy and purpose. There’s no doubt that you’re happier and more fulfilled when your day job is also your soulmate.
In high school, my day job was five days a week, seven hours a day — plus homework — of drudgery. Now I’m sure that if I had been more invested in my classes in high school, I would have gotten more meaning and fulfillment out of them. But I wasn’t. I was considerably depressed and didn’t realize it, and somehow AP U.S. History didn’t help matters, even if it should have been fascinating. The thing that kept me sane was Bible quizzing — a quiz-bowl-like competition between churches over a section of the Bible.
Here was something that I was good at, something that had meaning and purpose for me outside of the thing itself, something that gave me community and belonging. I threw myself wholeheartedly into being the best I could be at it — and was pretty successful. It was Bible quizzing that kept me from falling into abject misery. And I’ve had other flings along the way that have changed me in positive ways: policy debate in high school and The Weather Vane in college, for example.
We all hope to reach a place in life where our day job is also our soulmate. But don’t stop there. Because the things that keep life exciting, the things that keep you from settling into a bland routine, from just surviving, are the extra things — the things we don’t have to do but throw our heart and soul into nonetheless — when we are only in it for itself, and our enthusiasm is untempered by practical value. Find your infatuation and follow it as far as it will take you — your soulmate will always be there to come back to.