I was halfway through college when I realized I had chosen the wrong major.
I loved to draw, and I was good at it. When it was time for college, I figured I would go to art school and become an illustrator of some kind.
But when I called the school to ask about their graphic design program, the admissions rep had a different idea.
“If you like to draw,” he said, “how would you like to see your drawings move?”
This was 1997, and Toy Story had just changed the world’s expectations of animation forever. Seeing this, the school had launched a new computer animation major, and they were aggressively directing any interested graphic design prospects toward enrolling in this new major instead.
I looked at the pitch for the Computer Animation & Multimedia major. It was a 2-year Associate’s Degree program, and I would graduate with a hodge-podge of proficiencies in everything from life drawing to 2-D and 3-D animation to video production to computer programming. (Well… using Macromedia Director. But still.)
It wasn’t what I was planning on doing, but it seemed interesting, so I said sure.
One year later, I knew I was on the wrong path.
What I had realized after studying 12 months of animation was that I liked 2-D animation (think Bambi) more than 3-D (Toy Story) because 2-D was all about drawing, while 3-D was all about computers and geometry. Unfortunately, 2-D was also a dying industry. Most future career opportunities would be in 3-D, which I wasn’t very good at.
So, basically, I had spent 12 months [and thousands of my parents’ dollars] preparing for a career that I was ill-suited for.
I could switch majors, but that would cost me another year [and more money]. It felt like there was no turning back. I was on a one-way track, speeding toward a career I no longer wanted to pursue.
I felt trapped.
The good news was, I had also figured out what I’d rather be doing after all.
Computer animation involved a lot of editing… and once I got exposed to editing audio and video in SoundForge and Adobe Premiere, I found that I really enjoyed it.
In fact, I enjoyed editing videos more than I enjoyed creating the animations that went into them.
I couldn’t deny my true interests any longer. I wanted to do video production for a living, even if my (by then ex-)girlfriend was sure that I had no business doing so.
So, one afternoon, I visited the director of my department.
I explained my situation to him. I told him the few video production classes I had taken as part of my animation curriculum had clarified my interest in that field, but I was also halfway through my animation degree and I didn’t want to turn back now. But there were no other video production classes in our curriculum, and no video electives were being offered to animation majors as electives.
Regardless, I asked him if there was any way I could take three video classes instead of the electives in our current pool.
There was no reason for him to say yes to this.
But he said yes.
To this day, I have no idea why he said yes… or what would have happened if he had said no.
But 16 years into a career that’s been built around video production — which led to online video, which led to online marketing, which led to marketing in general — I’m glad he did.
Looking back, my entire career has hinged on one thing, though:
I had to ask.
As a student, I had to ask to tweak my curriculum so I could study the skills I wanted.
As an employee, I’ve had to ask for more time, money, and equipment to complete tasks and advance my career.
As a freelancer, I have to ask people to hire me every day.
I’ve written before about the transformative power of saying yes. But the reverse of that equation is equally powerful: you can’t get what you don’t ask for in the first place.
As a rule, no one else is looking out for you. Everyone is just trying to make sure their own needs are met, so anything that helps you out along the way is incidental. If you’re hoping that some external benevolent force will magically ensure that you have a wonderful life, hey, good luck to you… but you might want to develop your asking muscle along the way. (And if you don’t, start training your adaptation muscle instead, because you’re going to spend most of your time trying to fit your happiness into whatever boxes other people leave for you.)
Is asking scary? Sure. You might get turned down. You might even get told why you don’t deserve something. And getting denied is never a good feeling.
But you know what’s worse?
Always wondering what could have happened if you’d only been brave enough to risk hearing “no.”
One Last Word About Adaptation and Upside
Studying computer animation wasn’t entirely bad.
For one thing, it helped me understand filmmaking in general (and animation in particular) in a way that I never would have otherwise.
I also made a lot of friends in that program that I wouldn’t have gotten to know if our paths had never crossed in the classroom. Several of us were very competitive, and we kept pushing ourselves to outdo one another and get better in the process. (Some business gurus call this co-opetition, and it’s served me well throughout my career and my creative pursuits.)
There’s a lot to be said for adaptability, and for making the most of whatever situation you’re in. The same admissions rep who talked me into studying computer animation also sent me an inspirational quote that we’ve all seen in memes ever since, which says: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” And he’s right. (It’s almost like he knew I’d be writing this post 20 years later.)
So, yes, if you find yourself in a non-ideal situation, make sure you find whatever value there is in it before you move on to what you’d rather be doing instead.
But by all means, move on.
Life is too short to feel like you’re speeding toward a future you no longer want.
If You Like This Post
… then you may also enjoy this post about how to overcome imposter syndrome, or this post about why increasing the number of touchpoints in our lives can change everything.