Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Path of Least Resistance

It’s Halloween and it’s raining. This is the first crappy Halloween we’ve seen since moving to Pittsburgh. It seems fitting, though, in a way. We also bought crappy candy to give out. Part of me hopes that not many kids come by, but another part wants them to ALL come by so that they’ll take all that crappy candy out of our house. We’ll see what happens…

Anyway. The idea of wearing masks got me to think about the ones I’ve worn. I really do not feel like the same person who was the “me” in high school. Not so much because of any traumatic life event or any conscious decision on my part to change. Rather, it just seems that the masks I’ve put on in order to get through life have gotten stuck.

Frankly, the idea of pretending (what I mean by wearing a mask) in order to cope with situations or events has never had any great appeal to me. I’d rather just avoid situations that tend to put me in that position. Yeah, I guess I’m just a pretty passive person. FINALLY, I’m getting to the title of this essay!

When I was in junior high (I think?), I took a career interest test and it revealed that my ideal job would be something in the sciences. NOT that I had any special aptitude for science (it doesn’t measure that), just that the idea of discovery and knowledge was appealing to me. Let me say right now that I WAS NOT A NERD. Not that I didn’t want to be one, but I really didn’t want to put the effort into becoming one. Maybe I’d describe myself as a quasi-nerd.

When I graduated high school, I signed yearbooks by saying I would someday be a psychiatrist. That would be a person with a medical degree who later specialized in mental health. There were not a lot of yearbooks for me to sign (fortunately) and as it turned out, my first semester in college (pre-med) was a disaster. I was not advised about what to take or avoid, so I ended up overloading myself and doing poorly. [If I remember correctly, my schedule was something like: General Psychology, Calculus, Zoology with a lab, Chemistry with a lab, and Physics with a lab.] I was a severely introverted mediocre student; one of three students sharing a dorm room designed for only two people. By the end of the semester I was invited to find an alternative educational/career path.

So much for pre-med. So much for college. (I was the first in my family to go to college, by the way.) I got a job and started working 40+ hours a week. The time FLEW by. My job was inane (and it’s probably obsolete now since even THEN I could see how a computer could be made to easily do my job). The people around me, I noticed, were fixated on the lottery. It appeared that all of them had dug themselves into their current lives so deeply that all they could hope for was a big win. That scared me a little, but not as much as how quickly and effortlessly eight months had flown by. I could all too easily see myself 10, 20, 30 years later in the same job but much older and checking my lottery stub against the latest drawing. I decided to re-apply to college (I was accepted) and take a more educated approach to education.

Despite my apparent explosion of motivation, it only lasted a short time. Much like how when you are driving at night and feel your eyes close slowly and then your head nods off. The sudden burst of fear and adrenaline fools me into thinking that there’s no way I could fall. . . asleep . . . againnnnn . . . YIKES!

In college, I took a proficiency exam to get out of the math requirement and stuck to courses that interested me, but that I was sure I could pass. This began the path of least resistance. I ended up majoring in psychology because I didn’t need to worry about those terrible science classes (even though the quasi-nerd in me wished I would take them). From the bachelor’s degree to the doctoral degree, it was psychology. Although I appeased my science urges a bit by shifting away from clinical psychology to experimental psychology, I think I will always wonder what would have happened if I’d taken my interests more seriously and traveled down the physics path.

Now I am second thinking myself. Maybe I’m still that same high school quasi-nerd.