Simply put, psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. While working at a summer basketball camp in high school, I was struck by how the kids' self-esteem and mood were impacted by their performance on the court. As they honed their skills and played better, their self-esteem increased and they were happier. On the flip side, kids who played poorly shrugged their shoulders, made poor eye contact, and became quiet and somber. I remember thinking I'm not sure what I wanted to do in life but I wanted to work with kids.
In college I was thinking about becoming a pediatrician. Had this plan into my sophomore year and then I took a child psychology course taught by Robert Wahler. An 8AM class that met 3 times a week. I attended every class, and that was meaningful to me. After that class, I knew. I change my major to psychology. (Sidebar: College students change their major at least three times on average according to the National Center for Education Statistics). I wanted to be a clinical psychologist.
After deciding on a career as a clinical psychologist, I gained experience to be certain I knew what I was getting into. I encourage all students to do the same. It's one thing to read about concepts such as depression and psychosis, it's a completely different experience to actually see it. Get hands on experience, regardless of your career path. It's the best way to know if you truly are passionate about something.
Even after deciding on clinical psychology as a career, I sought more experience to determine if I wanted to work in a clinical, research, or academic setting. Maybe all? A combination of two? I believe that is where some identity issues occur for students. A student decides on a major, maybe even a career. It feels like things are settled; in reality, the process has only just begun. Take your time, it's a process.
I wanted a career that was challenging, innovative, and beneficial to society. Don't we all? For me, that was the draw to clinical psychology. In a society, where only 30% of people feel engaged and inspired about their work, I consider myself lucky and blessed. I get to be curious with people about their lives, and in the process I meet some extraordinary people along the way.
So have goals and direction, but it's okay (and completely normal, statistically speaking) to change your mind once or even a few times. Find something that has meaning to you. Even if it means an extra semester (or two or three), in the long run it will be worth it to your mental health and life satisfaction.
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